Category Archives: Teaching with Technology

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.

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.



Approaches & Theories to Effective Guides

Guides, pathfinders, portals… they’ve been called many things over the years, but the way that librarians curate content for point-of-need assistance remains a fundamental way that users access library content. The library’s website is often referred to as the “virtual branch” and as such should maintain the same high quality, organized, and well assessed services as our physical locations.  But what physical equivalent do our subject- course- and topic specific guides have when compared to our physical spaces? As the UT Libraries migrates and unites our guides on the LibGuides platform, I thought it was a good opportunity to reflect on the purpose of these stand-alone instructional materials.


Thankfully much has been written about creating user-centered and teaching focused library guides. Recently, University of Georgia librarian Jason Puckett published Modern Pathfinders: Creating Better Research Guides to offer insight into best practices for creating guides that are guided (pun intended!) by foundational principles of writing for the web, content assessment, and instructional design. He also offered a companion webinar, which can be accessed through the UT Libraries HR staff development wiki.


Additionally, the 2013 LITA text, Using LibGuides to Enhance Library Services, edited by Aaron Dobbs and Ryan Sittler, offers a well-rounded resource covering many aspects of LibGuides beginning with its purchase, installation, training and finally creating guides. The two chapters in particular I found helpful and relevant address specific instructional design elements when creating guides.
Nedda Ahmed’s “Design: Why It Is Important and How To Get It Right,” perfectly summarizes how and why aesthetics really matter when striving for content engagement. Drawing from Donald Norman’s book, Emotional Design, she summarizes that, “Norman and his cognitive science colleagues have come to understand is that objects offering a good balance of aesthetics, practicality, and usability are more effective—essentially, he says, attractive things work better—their attractiveness produces positive emotions, which causes mental processes to be more creative and more capable of working through obstacles” (104).  It follows, then, that we, like many of our students, have negative reactions to aesthetically displeasing pages, sometimes discarding them wholesale despite their authority!


Visual elements such as composition and visual hierarchy help us process information; by using techniques such as entry points, focal areas, rest points, and uniformity, we can create calm, inviting and memorable instructional materials. Ahmed also mentions color as a technique, but personally, this remains questionable as it seems less compatible with principals of universal design. Lastly, she covers the importance of writing for the web, which cannot be overstated and are summarized as:
  • Be concise
  • Be objective
  • Make it scannable


In Chapter 7 entitled, “Integrating LibGuides Into The Teaching-Learning Process”, co-authors Veronica Bielat, Rebecca Befus, and Judith Arnold use pedagogical and instructional design theory to illuminate best practices in creating specific and targeted LibGuides for a variety of instructional needs. Because the LibGuides platform is so flexible, it can be used to support many different type of teaching: asynchronous, point-of-need, course integrated, and train-the-trainer.


The authors promote scaffolding as a way to help individual learners succeed no matter what point of entry they take to this content. Scaffolding is described here as providing the students “with all of the resources they need for a learning task plus guidance by an expert to support their discovery of new concepts and knowledge” (123). Learning tasks are broken up into smaller, more manageable pieces and can be accomplished at different paces according to learners needs which is especially useful when there is not an expert available.  Additionally, other theories such as metacognition and cognitive load are also expanded and explicitly tied to the LibGuide. I’ve reproduced their chart with the examples below:


Table 7.1: Incorporate these learning theories to make LibGuides a Teaching Tool
Table 7.1: Incorporate these learning theories to make LibGuides a Teaching Tool


Taking into account these user-centered design principals and instructional design theories, here are few potential conversation starters for tomorrow:
  • How have you incorporated elements of writing for the web, user-centered design, scaffolding, and instructional design into your guides (course or subject) previously? What worked and didn’t work?
  • Is there support that you feel you need in order to better integrate these principals into your guides?
  • What do you personally respond to when reading instructional materials on the web?

TLS Tips: Bubbles and Branches

As part of our assessment plan in our unit, TLS measures students’ ability to brainstorm an effective keyword strategy in pre and post tests administered to UGS students at the beginning and end of each semester. Our latest findings indicate that students are struggling with this skill, which has us experimenting with new ways of teaching this concept in our instruction. Additionally, one new ACRL framework for info lit is ‘Searching as Strategic Exploration‘, which focuses on the iterative process of searching, as well as emphasizing divergent (brainstorming) and convergent (selecting the best source) thinking. It also mentions ‘searching language’ and managing searching processes and results effectively.

The first attempt I made to reformulate my approach was thinking about concept (or mind) mapping, something that students may already be familiar with from their K-12 years. Do you remember these things? I don’t remember them being helpful, but then again, I typically treated school as a ‘run the clock out’ situation:


My brain will not let me look at those.

There are a few tools online to facilitate concept/mind mapping. Here are some brief reviews of the ones I played with this semester. Here’s what that looks like:


With the free account (which you have to sign up for), this tool allows you to create a concept map to save and share (up to three times, then you gotta $). There is not a ton of flexibility with this tool.

Padlet isn’t primarily for concept/mind mapping and at first, I was ready to dismiss it altogether because it doesn’t allow you to connect ‘bubbles’. But, if you treat it like refrigerator poetry, it’s actually a quick and easy way to organize thoughts. It also allows you attach files to a bubble and store notes.


Free Mind is an open source tool that requires download. I can see using this in an ‘everything but the paper’ assignment more so than in a one shot. There is a ton of flexibility and functionality and the maps are easy to reorganize. You can attach files and images and hide ‘branches’ of your map for organization.

Coggle was instantaneously simple to use, had a helpful side menu always visible, and had some customization options. It  has options for collaboration, so I can see using it in classes with group projects. It requires a google login, so that’s not great for one shots.

What is helpful about these tools is malleability. You can usually (but not always easily) drag bubbles and branches to reorganize your thoughts. You can also insert links and files into many of these tools, making the storage of article references easier. Besides the logistics of accessing (download or account sign up) these tools, the other thing that is unhelpful to instruction sessions is that the discovery aspect (mining databases and background info) exists outside the tool. The simple act of switching from window to window is annoying.

So, what’s been my answer so far? Paper! I’ve been experimenting with a worksheet that walks students through choosing a database and mining titles, abstracts and subject terms for keywords, then experimenting with searches and winnowing down approaches. Informal assessment makes me want to pursue this approach further. I’m tweaking the worksheet to encourage mental flexibility – realizing that the first search is not usually the best, that we need to reformulate keywords as our research progresses, and that a good search involves browsing and the serendipitous discovery of information. Tall order, huh? I have collected these sheets from two classes and can definitely see students working through the process, if only superficially. In one class, I incorporated a peer review piece and had students talk through their research strategy with another student. On paper, this isn’t easy to assess, but all of us have had the experience of talking through a topic with a student and seeing improvement.

Keyword brainstorming is not something students would do if we didn’t tell them to, so introducing an online tool to help them work through this process seems excessive. But, maybe I’m not thinking it through all the way. And, I wonder if my reticence toward these tools is that I’m sort of a messy thinker. I jot stuff down in a frenzy and then insist on my own organizational structure, which would never be bubbles and branches.

Can you see yourself using these tools in a class, whether in a one shot or in a flipped classroom approach? What strategies do you use when talking to students about keywords?


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.


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.

TIS Sandbox: Guide on the Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Individual account access
To login to your GotS account:

TLS Tips: Teaching With Technology Resources

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

RIOT: 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: The Classroom of Your Dreams

Michele’s post entitled The Classroom of Your Dreams has practical implications, since she has been tasked with developing a formal proposal to fund a Learning Commons in PCL. At present, the classrooms in PCL are in high demand, and there is no space that is suited to an active learning style for large seminars. Michele shared some figures that indicate growing demand for library instruction services. In 2012, there were 420 library instruction classes taught between PCL and Engineering.  Instruction statistics from the first half of 2013 are comparatively higher, just before the integration of Engineering into PCL, which will of course intensify the pressure on PCL’s facilities.

There was some lively discussion on no. 5 of Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know about Collaborative Learning Spaces relating to the involvement of faculty in the design of these spaces, and the resulting need to redesign their curricula. It can be difficult to alter the level of engagement with students during a library instruction session, particularly when the faculty member adopts a lecture style in the classroom. Some librarians responsible for instruction want to be in the stacks with students to show them the physical materials, but they also want to show them electronic resources on a screen that is larger than an iPad. A few of the articles under discussion support the theory that different learning spaces will change the way everyone behaves. If the students have their own white boards, and are arranged in pods around the instructor, that instructor will start to teach differently. That said, the instructor’s control is often sacrificed. It must be accepted that active learning classrooms, particularly the large ones, will be slightly rowdy, as students will need to take on the responsibility of animating small group discussions.

We didn’t get around to discussing square footage, but we did explore the idea of a large room (capacity 100) that could be partitioned into two or more spaces with the use of transparent room dividers on rollers. One of the challenges of designing such a space is  the considerable differences in enrollments between undergraduate (20-25 students per library instruction on average) and graduate courses (5-15 students).

These practical points were raised:

  • Lighting is sometimes a problem in the classrooms, but this is not hard to fix. Fluorescent bulbs can cause headaches and eyestrain, but if the lights are too low, students fall asleep.
  • Occasionally, there are problems with the wireless network in classrooms. Increasingly, students are using up their bandwidth allotment. The Learning Commons will need ethernet connections to plug in.
  • Build in the flexibility to use or not use technology. We want technology rich spaces, but we also want the option to shut them down. There are faculty members who conduct technology-free classes and do not wish to change this for the library instruction. The Learning Commons might be used to show off physical collections. We also want students to be able to do things in the space without being in front of their computers.
  • Demo style classrooms with giant computer monitors are not conducive to successful instruction sessions. The massive equipment and tables impede group work, and the instruction librarian feels like Bob Barker on The Price is Right when he/she crosses into the “audience” (only without the prize money…).
  • We don’t want to build a space that presupposes BYOD (bring your own device). We don’t want to exclude students who don’t have tablets or laptops to bring.

Regarding dreamy classrooms, these ideas were proposed:

  • Could we project different students’ screens onto a larger screen? This would allow students to demo a search, or share their work. This is not intended to keep them off Reddit or otherwise control what they are doing.
    • Mediascapes might support this idea of multiple users plugging in their devices and collaborating on a single or dual screen. There’s one in use in the Fine Arts Library (DFA 3.216), among others.
  • What kind of technology do we want in the Learning Commons? Flexible devices like Microsoft’s Surface?
  • Writing on tables with whiteboard tops?
  • How about tables in square or diamond shapes that can be arranged into larger shapes? Low, non-invasive tables would be especially welcome.

The integration of other services with the Learning Commons was also discussed. This would allow students to get their needs met without having to run all over campus.

  • Undergraduate Writing Center
  • Special events? Could this be a space that students reserve as well?
  • Sanger Learning Center (pop up tutoring)
  • Center for Teaching and Learning

We shelved the idea of a student focus group on the Learning Commons, since it might require an effort greater than the returns would warrant.

RIOT: The Classrooms of Your Dreams

One of the advantages of a Learning Commons in PCL is the opportunity to design classrooms from the ground up, rather than trying to make existing rooms work for our purposes.  This RIOT is practical in nature as I’ve been asked to provide some firm numbers (square footage, number of rooms, etc.) before Thanksgiving for potential classrooms.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading and looking at what other libraries have done and have summarized a few of the many resources I’ve consulted to inform our conversation.

What are people saying about learning spaces?
EDUCAUSE ELI recently (2013) published a list as part of the 7 Things series called 7 Things You Should Know About Collaborative Learning Spaces.  It is an excellent overview of best practices for collaborative learning spaces, which is what our classrooms should be to reflect 21st century teaching and learning.   Its short enough to read quickly and summarizes what I read in numerous articles and book chapters about designing learning spaces.  Here are a few highlights.  Collaborative learning spaces are flexible and accommodate a variety of teaching styles from group work to lecture to flipped classrooms, although student-centered rather than lecture is the preferred model.   That means you can move the furniture around.  It is set up so that “an instructor has the ability to lead the class from anywhere in the room.”  They are technology rich and have numerous screens and whiteboards yet they also support BYOD (bring your own device) with strong wireless and flexible furnishings.  They are, in short, active learning classrooms.  Some examples, where some assessment has also been done, include SCALEUP from NCSU (very large, active learning classrooms), TEAL at MIT, and ALCs at Minnesota (more on that below).

How do you design one?
There are a lot of suggestions about how to design effective learning spaces. I really liked this straightforward approach taken at IU-Bloomington and explained in this 2008 LOEX proceeding, Function Before Form: Designing the Ideal Library Classroom, by Carrie Donovan and Diane Dallis.  I found the two most appealing features of their process to be their mandate to think big at first and be realistic later, and their emphasis on function first – what do you want to do in that space, how do you teach or do you want to teach, what are your outcomes for your students?  Just as in instructional design, if you begin with what you want to accomplish and work backwards, you can design the best approach to get there.  As they put it, “Throughout the Instructional Space Committee’s process for library classroom design, we focused on effective teaching styles and good pedagogical practices before thinking about classroom setup and configuration.”  They also provided an example of what an ideal library session might look like so they could design the form/classroom based on this ideal/function.  “An ideal instruction session might start with a demonstration or discussion, then progress to group work where students work in pairs or small groups to solve a problem with the instructor circulating among the students to answer questions as needed, and end with students sharing what they learned while the instructor synthesizes the main points of the session.”

How do you know it works?
While there is a lot of work out there about how to design learning spaces and create user-centered classrooms, there is less empirical research about the impact of these practices on student learning.  D. Christopher Brooks of the University of Minnesota did a research study and published the results in two articles:  “Space Matters: The Impact of Formal Learning Environments on Student Learning” in the British Journal of Educational Technology and “Space and Consequences: the Impact of Different Formal Learning Spaces on Instructor and Student Behavior” in the Journal of Learning Spaces.  He worked with one faculty member who was teaching  two sections of the same course – one in a traditional, lecture-style classroom and one in an Active Learning Classroom (ALC).  The content and approach taken by the faculty member was the same – only the learning environment differed.  The results of this study showed that students in the ALC learned more than those in the traditional classroom.  In fact, students in the ALC had lower ACT scores, a good predictor of success, yet they outperformed their peers with higher ACT scores in the traditional classroom.  Brooks wanted to know why and was able to find out, to some extent, what was happening through coding and analyzing observational data.  He found that in the traditional classroom, the instructor lectured more than in the ALC, and consulted with students less.  There are a lot of other interesting and more complex findings in the second article,  but the bottom line is that the space impacted student learning.

Our situation:
We currently don’t have enough classroom bandwidth in PCL and we expect it to get even tighter with the loss of the classroom in Engineering.  I ran some statistics for 2012 and here is what I found:

  • Average number of attendees at an instruction session in PCL:  24.39
  • Median and mode = 18
  • Average number of attendees at an instruction session in Engineering: 20.76
  • Median and mode = 15

Some other considerations not represented by these numbers are that, at least in LIS, we frequently teach multiple discussion sections for large format UGS courses since we don’t have active learning classrooms to accommodate larger classes; and we sometimes have to go to a lecture hall and do demo rather than active learning.  I know we are not alone in this situation.

Questions for you:
1.  What do you love about our classrooms?

2.  What do you find challenging or constraining?

3.  What does your ideal classroom look like?

4.  There is a lot of information out there about classrooms for undergraduate student learning.  How does this differ for graduate students?

5.   What size classrooms would work best for you?