Category Archives: In the Classroom

RIOT–May 17, 2016

Instruction for graduate students

Janelle and I will discuss our experiences with instruction for graduate students. This sort of sharing is important, since there isn’t a lot of how-to literature out there for guidance (though we can highlight a couple of articles). The discussion will address the differences between instruction for undergraduates versus graduate students, especially focusing on systematic reviews, scholarly communication, and data management.

 

We hope this RIOT will be like a Reddit AMA on instruction for graduate students. Please submit your questions by leaving a comment.

CC Kati Fleming, July 4, 2013. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Horned_Lark,_Eremophila_alpestris,_nestlings_begging,_baby_birds,_gape_colors,_leaping_in_nest_Alberta_Canada_(1).jpg
CC Kati Fleming, July 4, 2013.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Horned_Lark,_Eremophila_alpestris,_nestlings_begging,_baby_birds,_gape_colors,_leaping_in_nest_Alberta_Canada_(1).jpg

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

 

 

Spring CATs or Easy Assessment of Student Learning

Resource:  Bowles-Terry, M., & Kvenild, C. (2015). Classroom assessment techniques for librarians. Chicago, Illinois: Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

One of the most common questions I’m asked as Learning & Assessment Librarian is how to quickly and effectively assess learning in the classroom. I always feel like my answers are unsatisfying, but the reality is that there is no perfect way to do this. When I went to Assessment Immersion a few years back, much attention was given to Angelo’s Classroom Assessment Techniques, a giant tome full of assessment examples that I believe was referred to at one point as an “assessment bible.” While I agree that it’s a great resource (though perhaps not at the biblical level), it is also huge and sometimes daunting. Not all of the techniques in the book lend themselves to the kind of one-shot teaching we often find ourselves engaging in. All of this to say, I was excited to get my hands on the recently published “Classroom Assessment Techniques for Librarians.” Inspired by Angelo, the authors tailor various classroom assessment techniques (CATs… meow!) for the kinds of outcomes and learning situations that librarians often engage with.

Their model is to simplify CAT usage by breaking it down into three steps:

1) Plan. (Choose a session and a technique.)

2) Do it! (Explain to students that you’re going to be checking their understanding during the session, tell them why, provide clear instructions, and execute your plan.)

3) Respond. (This is the “closing the loop” part. Read and interpret student responses and address what you learn by letting students know what difference that information makes. An example of this is sending a follow-up email to the instructor detailing changes you’ve made to the course guide based on students’ understanding. You should also think about changes you might make to your instruction based on what you learned, and make specific notes for the next time you work with that class.)

The book is broken down into chapters based on the kinds of skills being assessed, and includes examples of CATs being used in various class types and levels. For this RIOT, I’ll give examples of a few that I’m going to try out this semester, and we can talk about things that you have tried/want to try, challenges and possible solutions, and anything else related to CATs (purring, claws, etc).

Assessing Prior Knowledge and Understanding

I used to sometimes send specific pre-assessment questions to classes to gauge where students were at, but eventually learned that first-year students (with the possible exception of honors classes) are almost always going to be all over the place. “CATs for Librarians” includes an example of using pre-assessment in a way I haven’t done before: asking questions before or at the beginning of class to find out about students’ conceptions on how information is available on the Web. Their example questions are as follows (pg. 8):

  • “Google indexes everything on the Web” (answer choices in a Likert scale ranging from agree to disagree)
  • “Information is free”

I love the idea of using this pre-assessment to not only find out more about students’ beliefs, but to set the tone for a session and let students know that we’re not just going to talk about where to click on the Libraries website. I can that this could be a way to introduce multiple threshold concepts, and I’m excited to try it out. I’ll probably use a Google form linked from classes’ Subjects Plus pages and have students respond as they enter the classroom and get settled.

Assessing Skill in Synthesis and Creative Thinking

After going through an explanation of what peer review is, I often wonder how much of my diatribe the students absorbed. This semester, I’ll try the “One-Sentence Summary” CAT (pg. 40). For this technique, students are asked “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” about a particular concept, in this case, “How do scholarly articles get published?” Bowles-Terry and Kvenild suggest that this technique works particularly well for difficult new ideas and threshold concepts, and offer examples using each of the frames.

A few notes on analysis

Bowles-Terry and Kvenild include the always-useful reminder that assessment is not the same as research. Your goal is to see what your students learned, not to draw sweeping conclusions that can be applied in other settings. Do make sure to set aside time to close the loop, but don’t feel like you have to spend hours carefully categorizing each student response. For some of the higher-level skills (like the “one-sentence summary” example above) it might be useful to score responses with a simple rubric, or even a yes/no checklist. Here’s a very rough “rubric bank” that I sometimes pull from to assess relevant CATs; feel free to use it if it’s helpful to you, but don’t get caught up in “doing it right.” Even if you don’t have time to utilize a rubric for analysis, you can learn a lot by sorting through student responses and thinking about how to respond (to students themselves and in your own teaching).

What CATs are you going to try this semester? What has worked well for you in the past, and what have you learned about your students using CATs?

p.s. We have a copy of “Classroom Assessment Techniques for Librarians in our collection, and TLS also has an office copy that I’m happy to share. There are many more ideas than I was able to address in this post, and I highly recommend browsing it. If you want to see the “assessment bible” itself, we have collection copies and an office copy of that one, too. J

RIOT Recap: Teaching Open Access in Instruction Sessions

The RIOT discussion on December 15 was all about open access.  Sarah led off with a question for all of us sparked by her post – is there a place to incorporate Open Access and OERs into one-shots?

We had an excellent discussion about how this does and could work in both undergraduate and graduate classrooms, and what the challenges are.  Many of us already talk about open access journals in our undergraduate classes and find that students get very engaged when you talk about the price of journal/database subscriptions (about $10m/year for UTL) and “behind the scenes” information about the Libraries.  This line of discussion comes up in the context of evaluating information, including understanding peer-review, and is easy to demonstrate when talking about GoogleScholar.  Nobody has intentionally brought it up or built a lesson around it in undergrad classes, though, and there was some discussion of what this might look like.  Ideas included using Colleen’s infographic from OA week to spark discussion or asking students to look for information in both an open access portal (such as DOAJ) and a database and compare.  This might work better in a class with a social justice component.

When talking about open access in graduate student classrooms, there are natural ties to their own publishing activities.  Janelle works with one seminar class where she spends 1 of her 2 sessions with them talking about this very issue.  Because social justice is a big component of the College of Education, she is able to frame her discussion of OA this way.   As she puts it, she asks them to “think about how what they are creating can’t be accessed by the people they are most trying to help.”  PG talked about the importance of continuing education to social workers and how that lends itself to a discussion of OA.

We also talked about how to tie discussions of OA and Creative Commons to other creative activities besides scholarly publishing.  Sidney talked about how many of her grad students and faculty want to use other people’s work in their own creative work (often without citation) but do not want to openly share their own.  There are fears that sharing your own work under a creative commons license will lead to others profiting from it or using it in ways with which you disagree.  This happens in the College of Ed, too, where people are training to be teachers (or may already be teachers) who heavily borrow from each other’s work already.  Janelle encourages them to think about how to share their work with others for the benefit of those they teach.

One challenge everyone discussed is how to be an activist about this topic with or in front of people who are participating in the system.  For example, when you are teaching undergraduates and talking about changing the model for scholarly publishing, the faculty member in the room is often a participant in that model.  Graduate students often have to participate in that model when they get on the tenure track to achieve tenure.  The trick is to find a balance between raising awareness about the issue and still showing why using library journals/databases now is important in the current environment.  Janelle often explains to her users that if the model did change, the $10m we spend on subscriptions now could go to support research instead.

The discussion went on past the hour and included some non-instruction related threads such as:

  • the importance of educating faculty to write OA into their grant proposals so that the fees for publishing in OA journals are covered
  • the difference between disciplines and how the sciences are more embracing of OA and use different metrics
  • trying to connect with the people on campus who make course packs so that we don’t ask students to pay copyright fees for articles we already subscribe to
  • wishing there was a simple way to add links to articles in our databases within Canvas – the current model is too much of a barrier for faculty and we don’t have the staff to do it for them, although it would be a great cost savings for students

We also had some ideas for OA week that Michele will pass along to Colleen, including having giant checks in the PCL lobby to clearly show the costs of our current system, and taking some undergrad and grad papers, and even a dissertation, and showing how much each “cost” to create (basically adding up subscription fees for the journals they accessed).

Michele also promised to send around the ACRL IL/Schol Comm white paper from a few years ago, which can be found here – http://acrl.ala.org/intersections/.

 

RIOT Recap – 10/20/15

Krystal’s RIOT enabled us to have a rich discussion regarding the role reading plays in developing student’s information literacy skills while in the library instruction classroom.  To be sure, it would be difficult to evaluate information without reading it, but, as Krystal notes in her blog post, this is often what happens within the classroom setting when we have limited time to integrate active learning and model the research process.
Time is a constant obstacle in the library instruction classroom in even the most concept-driven and pedagogically sound classes. Creating an inauthentic classroom environment, something Roxanne’s earlier blog post investigated, feels appropriately off. However, framing the short evaluation exercises as good habits rather than retain content could help instructors reinforce that the activity is to build skills. Then, after they have developed the skills to evaluate a source, they can deem that source worthy of follow-up and close reading.
So, instead of an active learning classroom scenario like this:
Librarian: “Okay, now take the next five minutes to read your source, in a group develop criteria you would use to evaluate it, and develop a sound argument as to why or why not you would list as a source for your paper, and don’t worry if you don’t finish the article because there isn’t enough time to do that anyway, this is just for a class discussion…” (slightly dramatized)
We could frame it as:
Librarian: “Okay, now take the next five minutes to skim over your source noting elements within and about this source that would help you decide if a closer reading of this source is useful for your paper. Your criteria should be broad enough that it could be used in any class regardless of the assignment or research you’re doing.”
The latter framing would hopefully reinforce that this is a conceptually exercise rather than a content-driven one.
We also discussed a few other strategies, such as:
  • Reaching out to the faculty member to ask if s/he has talked about reading with the students in an effort to compliment or augment that dialogue.
  • Using and promoting educational technology, such as Endnote Web and Noodletools. Roxanne mentioned that she uses Endnote Web to teach students how to keep track of the research they are finding as a way to organize and conceptualize the research process. Michele mentioned that NoodleTools also enables students to annotate their references and add tags which can be used for critical reading.
  • Designing scaffolded assignments, such as the annotated bibliography assignment, which allows students to build skills and draw connections between readings and assignments over the course of the semester.
  • Framing the research question in a way that elicits a more targeted answer. For example, “Does XYZ solve this question” rather than “how does XYZ effect …”?
Many of us already have great relationships with faculty and have collaborated deeply on their courses and using the successes from these partnerships, we discussed ways to reach out to other faculty and illustrate a collaborative approach as a proof of concept. Additionally, are there ways in which we currently support faculty, such as the Information Literacy Toolkit, that can be redesigned to meet faculty where they are or to reach faculty before they have begun to plan their course.
We also discussed that the way in which students reading patterns have changed, mostly online and in segments, could be challenging the way we teaching information literacy.  Students may write a paper first only to go back and find sources that support their points rather than build it from a body of evidence or they may cherry-pick quotes from an article without having read it in entirety.
Roxanne offered up using review articles as a strategy for helping students better understand the synthesis of research papers. You can start with a review article and point out that scholar’s a + b say one thing, scholar’s c + d say this other thing, and then ask students to go back to the original article to see it in full context and how the author of the review article summarized their research. Sarah recommended asking students to read the first paragraph of an article and ask the to pull out keywords from there.
We ended our RIOT with a discussion of the potential of adding an additional approach to our current Signature Course program as a way to reach all students to instill information literacy skills. Because this program already catches all incoming students, it is a captive audience and we already have buy in from the School of Undergraduate Studies. We discussed what such an approach could look like — something online, a tutorial, an interactive video – and perhaps it would be something online that all students are required to complete, that would complement any of the rich course-integration interactions we currently have. Finally, we ended with a reiteration that curriculum mapping could help us define faculty and areas for partnership.

RIOT: On reading

Recently, I was introducing an evaluation activity to a UGS class in which students worked in groups to come up with evaluation criteria and apply them to an assigned source. I had a lot to cover during the class, and found myself repeatedly telling the students not to actually read the information I had provided them, but to skim the beginning if necessary, and analyze its merits based on context. While the activity led to a great discussion about evaluation and how to use various kinds of sources, something about it felt inauthentic.
Upon further reflection, I came back to something that has bothered me in the past. By necessarily compressing parts of the research process to make room for a deep discussion in a 50 minute one-shot, one of the first things that goes out the window is reading and reflection. I’ve often thought of reading as a problem to overcome while teaching, and have designed most activities to require little or no reading. I ran into this problem again this semester in trying to rethink how I teach students to use background information to find keywords. I struggled to come up with a good way to demonstrate how to pull keywords out of an encyclopedia article without slowing down and giving students time to read and digest the article. I kept coming back to the same roadblock. How can I in one breath tell students that research is a slow, iterative process and in the next breath, tell them that it’s not necessary to actually read the information I’m asking them to evaluate?

While searching for something to RIOT, I came across an article co-written by a librarian and an English professor at Hunter College. The article outlines the reasoning behind a “Research Toolkit” they created that includes both student-facing online learning tools and a faculty guide for their use. While the resource itself doesn’t sound too dissimilar from our Information Literacy Toolkit, the portions of the article explaining their pedagogical reasoning for moving from mechanics of research to deeper, critical inquiry-based research spoke to my own cognitive dissonance around reading and research. Here’s one excerpt:

Reading is an area often neglected by both library and composition scholars. As Brent (1992) explained, “instruction on the research process…deals with the beginning and the end of the process (using the library and writing the drafts), but it has a gaping hole in the middle where much of the real work of knowledge construction is performed. The evaluation of sources is treated chiefly as a matter of measuring the writer’s overall authority as a witness to facts, as measured by factors such as his reputation and the recency of the source” (p. 105). Looking at a variety of writing textbooks and library instruction materials confirms Brent’s statement: most of them focus only on evaluating sources rather than reading them.

Furthermore, the way evaluation of sources is often taught forefronts ideas such as identifying the “bias” of a source. While sources are indeed biased, most students do not understand that all sources will have a bias; it’s how they choose to use the source that matters. Students reading only to evaluate the credibility or bias of a source are not going to do the deeper reading that truly understanding a source requires. Brent (1992) called for a “theory of rhetorical reading” (p. 103), something that has yet to be fully realized.Keller’s (2014) study analyzed student reading practices and noted that focusing on the evaluation of source may have resulted in a form of overcorrection (p. 65), which may lead students to dismiss valuable resources.

Am I doing my students a disservice by focusing on evaluation skills to the detriment of critical inquiry? How can I teach them to construct knowledge when I don’t even give them time to read? The longer I teach, the more I sometimes feel like by cramming the entire research process into a one-shot, I’m deceiving my students. Some things I’d like to discuss:

  • By focusing on evaluating information, are we leading students towards “overcorrection” and away from inquiry?
  • Is it our responsibility to teaching students how to read deeply, or does that fall outside of information literacy?
  • How can you truly model a process that involves reading and sometimes rereading when you have a limited amount of time? Can tutorials and other online learning objects help?
  • Can we come up with exercises that help students practice the “reading and thinking” parts of research?
  • Are there ways to collaborate with our colleagues at the Writing Center around this issue?

Referenced source:

Margolin, S., & Hayden, W. (2015). Beyond Mechanics: Reframing the Pedagogy and Development of Information Literacy Teaching Tools.The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(5), 602–612. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.07.001

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?

 

“…how we teach in the classroom can be as important as what we teach…”

In July 2015, David Gooblar wrote a pithy Chronicle Vitae column, the crux of which is that we should sometimes “model stupidity” for our students. Gooblar cites a couple of other short pieces, notably “The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research,” that support the idea that students need instructors to pull back the curtain on their learning process.

“Modeling stupidity,” as Matthew Fleenor writes in a 2010 article for Faculty Focus, “is one of the best ways we can provide an example to our students. It’s important for them to understand that learning involves seeking out the gaps in our knowledge.”

One commenter on Gooblar’s column prefers to call this “modeling curiosity,” but points out the particular pitfalls of exposing ignorance in the classroom for female instructors. That’s almost certainly an issue for instructors of color as well. And it may well pose concerns for instruction librarians, who are already regarded by students as “guest speakers” instead of as experts. Yet clearly, students need to know how instructors recognize and deal with their own ignorance.

Probably we’ve all had an “I don’t know” experience in one-on-one reference encounters, and have pursued answers/solutions with some measure of poise. But “I don’t know” in front of a classroom full of students is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

How do instructors get comfortable with saying “I don’t know,” and what action plan follows?

Can instruction librarians model stupidity in the often limited time we have with students?

Is there a cost to authority if an instructor models stupidity?

Possible to provide faculty with examples of opportunities to model stupidity with respect to literature searching/information resources?


Fleenor, Matthew. (2010). “Responding to student questions when you don’t know the answer.” Faculty Focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/responding-to-student-questions-when-you-dont-know-the-answer/

Gooblar, David. (2015). “Modeling the behavior we expect in class.” Chronicle Vitae, Pedagogy Unbound. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1067-modeling-the-behavior-we-expect-in-class

Moore, Katherine. (2015). Comment on “Modeling the behavior we expect in class.” Chronicle Vitae, Pedagogy Unbound. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1067-modeling-the-behavior-we-expect-in-class

Schwartz, Martin. (2008). “The importance of stupidity in scientific research.” Journal of Cell Science (121)11:1771. http://jcs.biologists.org/content/121/11/1771.full

 

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: Choosing a Topic…during the one shot?

There are two types of one shot instruction sessions – the ones where students arrive with really well-formed and researchable topics in hand – and the rest. I feel like this semester I got mostly the latter.  Don’t we all? Even when the professor assures you that students will have topics in hand, even when you’ve worked with the class in the past.

But conversations with other librarians lately have made me question this approach of emphasizing topic selection before the instruction session. Selecting a topic is research (check out this video from NCSU), afterall, and we want to teach students that research is an iterative process. We have all had the experience of working with a student who has either chosen a topic on which there is little written, or who has written an entire paper and needs to shoehorn in three sources by 5pm.

So, I’ve thought of a few ways to come at teaching students how to choose and refine a topic in the instruction session. This tactic was the most interactive and fun, but I’m eager for suggestions. I’m excited to experiment with it next semester and make the exercise better.

The class was about vampires and they had to compare and contrast vampiric folklore with one of the other texts they were reading in the class. This sort of made topic exploration easier, because basically they had to find themes common in both of the works. So, asking them to follow along, I first I demoed searching Beauty and the Beast OR La belle et la bete (one of their readings) in Academic Search Complete.  I asked them to pull out keywords that they thought were interesting (the key to this is to get students to do all the work). Some of the keywords that came up in the search were desire, queer, sexuality, gender, body image, feminism, violence. Now they had a list of keywords that came up in the titles or subjects that they could brainstorm broader or narrower terms from. We then took those keywords and added them to vampire, as in ‘vampire and queer’. Then we went over how to use AND and OR to diversify your search. Students were excited to play around with how adding and subtracting keywords changed results significantly and sometimes led them down new paths of discovery. We brainstormed what this fake paper would be about and what articles would be most relevant. I thought some of the fake titles the students came up with were great!

Doing topic selection this way allowed me to talk about a few key things we always cover in instruction sessions – how to brainstorm broader and narrower keywords, how to link them up with AND and OR, and, something we don’t typically cover, how to examine a results list in a database quickly and effectively.

During active learning time I worked with students on their keywords and helped them follow their topics down all the winding paths research takes us down. They seemed to be having fun. But, then again, their class is about vampires.

Do you ever go over topic selection in one shots? Please tell me about it!