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?

RIOT Recap – Feminist Pedagogy

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Information Literacy Symposoium at Houston-Tillotson

On Friday, January 22nd  the Teaching and Learning Services Department participated in the first-ever Information Literacy Symposium held at Houston-Tillotson University in East Austin. The Symposium was coordinated by Patricia Wilkins, Library Director, Ana Roeschley, Public Services Librarian, and Stephanie Pierce, Technical Services Librarian, and it brought together librarians from across public, school, and college and university libraries.

The all-day symposium was a great opportunity for us all to exchange ideas, share teaching strategies, brainstorm about potential partnerships, and get updates on the ways our libraries and services have evolved in response to curriculum and student learning.

There were four sessions offered throughout the day and TLS gave a panel presentation entitled, “Measuring Learning from Classroom to Program,” about the different ways we integrate assessment into our information literacy instruction and how we address the challenges we encounter.  You’ll find our presentation along with supporting documentation that we referred to during the presentation in this shared folder; please feel free to adapt them, but we would love it if you would credit the UT Libraries somewhere in your adaptation and let us know if you do!

Our sincere thanks to Ana and the rest of the staff at the Downs-Jones Library at HTU for organizing this Symposium.

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 – Teaching Open Access in Instruction Sessions?

For the 12/15 RIOT:

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

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

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

Looking to the Future, While Reflecting on the Past

As the end of another semester and year approaches, I find myself looking to the future, defining new goals, and exploring exciting possibilities, especially since this is the new normal at the UT Libraries today! However, I recently received an email that made me reflect on a past partnership that has blossomed into something greater than I ever anticipated.

The email came from Lisa Hernandez, currently the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo College, Career & Technology Academy Librarian and the Texas Library Association’s Librarian of the Year. In 2013, Lisa had been one of ten Texas high school librarians selected to attend the UT Libraries Information Literacy Summit, a day long summit about information literacy. Information Literacy (IL) is broadly defined by the ability to find and think critically about information and is not only a crucial skill for life-long learning, it is also one of the six requirements of UT’s School of Undergraduate Studies Signature Course program, a required interdisciplinary foundation course for all incoming UT freshman.

During the Summit, high school librarians from across Texas and librarians from the UT Libraries Teaching and Learning Services department shared expertise, identified overlapping skills, and created mutually-beneficial instructional content in order to better understand the types of issues and needs we have at both ends of the high-school to college transition.  UT librarians shared real syllabi used in freshman courses and we worked collaboratively to design activities and assignments that would help augment information literacy development at both levels, a need identified in national research conducted by Project Information Literacy.

One of the goals of the Summit was to continue sharing resources and exploring partnerships beyond the day long information exchange and a number of the participants did stay in touch, presenting a poster entitled, “Partnering with High School Librarians To Create Information Literate College Students” at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio in 2014.  Lisa Hernandez, who notes that her attendance at the Information Literacy Summit was the “highlight of her professional career”, used the concepts she learned at the summit to create an E-Research Plan Portfolio which helps scaffolds reading, writing, and research assignments over a period of time. It also integrates resources from her home library as well as from the UT Libraries and UT’s University Writing Center.

Lisa has shared her work with her colleagues, most recently on November 16th at a district librarian meeting and has been a steadfast leader in bridging the relationships between high school and college teachers and librarians. In our recent correspondence, Lisa gave me an update on her collaboration and the integration of the E-Research Plan Portfolio. She writes,

“Presently, our school library has a unique partnership with South Texas College Library.  Collaboratively, a STC librarian and I provide library services to college and/or HS students.  This semester, Criminal Justice dual-enrollment students were introduced to my e-Research Plan Portfolio as a resource to conducting research.  The success of the portfolio is professors and students are beginning to value it as a research tool; the challenge of the portfolio is constantly verifying electronic links are updated and working.  My future plan is that it will serve as an effective resource to better prepare Texas HS students for college academic success.”

Lisa’s work demonstrates how connecting with our colleagues outside of the University can have a real effect in local communities. When we accepted Lisa into the Information Literacy Summit, we had no idea that we would find such an invested advocate and collaborator. For that, we are truly thankful and grateful.

Two female librarian smiling.
Cindy Fisher and Lisa Hernandez prepare for their presentation to the Texas Association of School Library Administrators Conference on June 18th 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIOT: Good Company: How Peer Tutors in the Library Can Reach Students in Unique Ways

I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog post written by the Writing Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison about the collaboration following the Writing Center moving into the Ott Library there. A lot of the ideas that have come out of brainstorming sessions between our staff and the UWC’s have been put into practice successfully at Ott, including a deep collaboration on a Literature Review workshop, the co-authoring of online learning objects, and joint librarian-writing consultant consultations. I plan to approach the UWC with an idea I grabbed from this blog post – writing consultants have mandatory individual research consultations by their subject liaison for their own work. Experiencing a librarian’s expertise first-hand may make it more likely that the consultant will make referrals (because now they know what we do and how helpful we are) and it creates a deeper connection between consultants and librarians.

This blog post led me down another path I’ve been trying to focus more on since classes have winded down – peer-to-peer learning in libraries. Ott and the Writing Center there have collaborated on a Course-Embedded Tutors program that exists alongside their Embedded-Librarian program. They don’t go into much detail about it, but the same questions popped into my head that always does when I see these types of peer-tutoring programs: How do you recruit? How do you train? And lots of other questions, too, but those are the big ones. Luckily, this blog post makes reference to an article about this very type of initiative.

Grand Valley State Libraries implemented their peer-tutor consultations in 2012 and have gathered a great deal of data and reflections on their program. I like the way they describe the unique learning experience a consultation with a peer can offer, “untethered from the hierarchy inherent in formal instruction environments”. Sometimes we have apprehension about allowing an undergraduate to impart our deep wisdom unto students, fearing they will give bad information or let a precious teaching moment slip by. The authors of this article emphasize that the peer tutors are not teachers, they are learners immersed in the undergraduate experience who have been given specialized and focused training.

Like us, the GVSL was undergoing change: co-location of library, writing and presentation support services. As they were envisioning what their ‘Knowledge Market’ would look like, they fantasized about a space where “students are guided by their own inquiry, through in-depth conversations that help a student envision his or her own research plan, determine the success of that strategy, and develop critical thinking and analytical skills to determine the validity of the information found for his or her specific need.” To them, this model would be led by tutors who would be on hand for drop-in in-depth consultations, presumably outside of regular business hours, a service that would be difficult to staff with busy librarians. In fact, they were inspired by the peer-led models of the Writing Center and the Speech Lab.

Recruiting and orienting consultants happens once a year, reinforcing the team-based approach. They ask that students have comfort with library research as evidenced by two research-based writing samples, a faculty recommendation and scenario-based open-ended questions on the application. I wonder if we would be able to attract students with this skillset here. The article didn’t go into specifics about how they attracted applicants.

For training, they emphasized the ability to listen to students’ needs and the ability to deeply engage with peers. In addition to an initial orientation, consultants are offered professional development sessions and regular mentoring meetings facilitated by ‘lead consultants’, who are also students. These lead consultants assist with many aspects of the program and oversee student-authored LibGuides.

Learning how to conduct a consultation is three-tiered: Observe, practice under observation, and finally conduct a practice consultation by themselves, one that is done with a “student” volunteer (typically library staff with a real assignment in hand). Consultants are given a copy of Muriel Harris’s article on writing tutors which emphasizes how peers can help students be more independent and cope with academic anxiety and confidence issues. The regular professional development opportunities focus on topics chosen based on need or suggestion by consultants.

Assessment of this program and how they used that data for scheduling, budgeting and marketing was impressive, but mostly because students had to give their student-identification number to book a consult. The authors could see this data being used to correlate library use with student retention.

I was impressed with the number of consultations they held in the library (not typically less than 20 a week), but the authors saw low attendance as a marketing issue. They also learned that although subject liaisons were referred to students during consultations, very few students followed up, indicating a perceived distinction between peer tutors and ‘authority figures’. Additionally, many students who came for research consultations reported that they did not know the library would offer such support, suggesting that the service was reaching new segments of the undergraduate population.

GVSL intends to more deeply explore the benefits of ‘collaborative tutoring’ in their space, i.e. a model that allows student tutors in the Writing Center, Speech Lab and Library work together in a more integrated manner. I see a lot of obvious parallels with our organization and theirs and hope to pursue elements of this collaboration further. First, may I ask:

  1. What do you think about this model of students leading research consultations? What fears do you have?
  2. How did this notion of students learning differently from their peers, or seeking out a peer for help more often than they would a professional resonate with you? What do you see in your classes?
  3. I find in my classes, students don’t know what they can ask me. On my guides, I often include sample questions so they know the breadth of inquiries I can field. This article talks about disappointment in the number of consultations sought. To what do you attribute that and does that jive with your experiences?
  4. I see potential to collaborate with a few places on campus. I plan to re-visit an initiative with Student Diversity Initiatives and now I’m brainstorming partnerships with the Office of Undergraduate Research and UGS. Whom would you approach?

Mary O’Kelly and Julie Garrison and Brian Merry and Jennifer Torreano et. al. “Building a Peer-Learning Service for Students in an Academic Library.”portal: Libraries and the Academy 15, no. 1 (2015): 163-182. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 16, 2015).

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:

conceptmapcrazy

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.

bubbl.us. Here’s what that looks like:

bubbl

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.

padlet1

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?