All posts by AJ

RIOT: Want to improve your teaching? Be organized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refresher Course: 10 Short Lessons on One-shot Instruction
By a group of library instructors, including Megan Oakleaf, Beth Woodard, Randy Hensley, Christopher Hollister, Debra Gilchrist, Patty Iannuzzi, etc.

As always I struggled to find an article that speaks to me. I read through some and skimmed many more. When I saw this one I almost skipped over it because it seemed so basic, but as I began to look over it I realized how important these basics are, and how little I have thought about them in the last few semesters of preparing and giving sessions. As I read more closely through this article, I also realized that I have lost many of the finer points of the basics, and I became excited for the first time in a while to actually plan a class. I am teaching one later this week that I am actually anticipating planning, because I am going to use this article as I go through the process and will try to integrate some of the points, some of which I’ve known  about for years, some of which I’ve presented on, but many of which have fallen by the wayside when I teach some of my current instruction sessions.

The lessons :
1. Less is more . . . right?
– We are teaching students research skills, not nurturing proto-librarians
– If it doesn’t fit, offload it (think about what’s most important for session, what’s secondary that might be able to have professor give out in class, etc.)
2. Some students learn like you do. Most don’t.
– All students have slightly different learning styles. We don’t need to teach to every different learning style, but we should use a broad variety of experiences
3, If you’re not assessing, you’re not teaching – practice assessing and teaching simultaneously
4. Have a (lesson) plan
– Use learning outcomes, break the lesson into chunks tied to each outcome, and afterward reflect for future
5. Your enthusiasm is contagious – enthusiasm is genuine, and shows students that you care about their learning, frustrations, successes
6. Go with evidence, not your gut – conduct needs assessments, whether before the class starts or at the beginning of a class
7. You should not be tired – Active learning, not lecture and demonstration
8. Integrated, not separated – integrate your thoughts, teaching, work with faculty and assessments
9. Faculty are your friends – You aren’t a babysitter or ‘guest lecturer’, rather you are an equal, an ally in student learning
10. Your teaching matters to your institution – we must work to contribute to the big issues on our campuses.

I would like to spend our time together talking through these, and finding the strategies that some of you employ specifically in your one shot classes.

Google search algorithm changes, and how they affect instruction

Google’s search algorithms are ever changing, as are the products Google decides to promote or demote. There are some changes that seems big to me in the last half year, some that I only grasp somewhat, others that are more obvious changes, but all that have implications for teaching students research skills. Following are some articles that address some of the changes to Google search over the last half year.


Google Gives Search a Refresh

March 15th, 2012

  • More focus on ‘semantic search,’  – “the search engine will better match search queries with a database containing hundreds of millions of “entities”—people, places and things—which the company has quietly amassed in the past two years. Semantic search can help associate different words with one another, such as a company (Google) with its founders (Page and Sergey Brin)”
  • More of Google’s own information on the page (ex. – Trinidad – see right side bar)


20 Services Google Think are more important than Google Scholar

April 3, 2012

  • Now you have to go to More, then to Even More, then search down to get to Google Scholar. Not that I ever access it this way, but it does seem to make it less accessible to patrons who don’t know Google Scholar well.
  • Not only that, but Advanced Search in Google Scholar is almost impossible to locate.


I Ditched Google For a Week

May 9, 2012

  • The author switched to Bing for a week, and concluded that while it was pretty good, and the change was relatively seamless, Google was unquestionably a better search engine, and when Bing didn’t show relevant or update results, a quick search in Google always did.
  • “The most striking thing about switching to Bing was how enmeshed I remained in the Google universe. During my week with Bing, I found myself reaching for lots of Google products beyond its Web search engine—Gmail, YouTube, Google Calendar, Google Books, Google Scholar, Chrome, Picasa, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. My editor challenged me to go without using any Google products at all. Could I survive even a day without anything made in Mountain View? I tried. I redirected my mail to Hotmail, I tried to abstain from YouTube, and I attempted to research obscure topics without using Scholar. But I couldn’t do it. Google’s just too good—even beyond search, its products are too useful, too central to the Web to get much accomplished without them. I lasted less than half a day without Google, and it was hell.”


Google Search gets its biggest change in a decade with a dose of Google+

January 10, 2012

  • Content from Google+ included on results pages, esp. recommendations, links shared previously by people with whom you are connected


Google Image Search by Image

Not an article, but a note that Image search has begun allowing you to search by image, as opposed to just for an image.


OK, these are some of the articles I read through. I always struggle with teaching Google, not just in the advanced Google searching class (where I constantly fear that something  I show them will be either wrong or soon won’t matter due to changes they make), but even in general in other classes, for the same reasons.


Have you changed how you approach Google lately? Do you explain personalized search, or other Google-specific products, in classes regularly? Do you put any focus on Google Scholar? I know this is less theoretical and more practical, but I haven’t spent much exploratory time in Google lately, and would love to hear what others are doing.

Integrating primary source research into undergrad courses

“Old Stuff” for New Teaching Methods: Outreach to History Faculty Teaching with Primary Sources portal: Libraries and the Academy Volume 10, Number 4, October 2010

From Project Muse database –

“If used properly, primary sources can illuminate history and its actors and make history come alive for students. I am always amazed at the joy of discovery shown by students when they look at primary sources.”


Many Latin American faculty have always expected their graduate students to do primary research, often with the expectation that they will do so in the Benson. But I feel like I’m seeing an increase in faculty bringing undergraduates into the Benson with similar expectations. Some of the increase might be due to those same professors teaching in the UGS program and them wanting to introduce their students to how to use primary sources for research projects. I think this is a great idea, but I also see it being done with varying levels of success. The worst cases usually involve the requirement that they find ‘one primary source in the Benson’ along with their other sources.


This semester I have met with at least four professors who are requiring their undergraduates to utilize primary resources, and I would like to prepare more for this in the future by looking at creative and effective ways faculty integrate primary source research into their undergraduate classes.


Some of the basic necessary skills:

  1. Identifying primary vs. secondary source documents (
  2. Analyze primary source documents
  3. Interpreting documents within historical context
  4. Comparing conflicting sources
  5. Identifying major themes/issues from primary sources (multiple sources)


Some of the challenges:

  1. Making the documents meaningful, instead of just another requirement
  2. Undergrads tend to use primary sources in same way they use secondary sources –finding something that supports their stance and using that
  3. Going past face value of documents (same for secondary sources) – looking at why they were created, who created them, etc. (critical analysis
  4. Student views of history as ‘narrative’ instead of tentative – something to be pieced together
  5. High school football coaches who crushed any budding historical curiosity through a regime of textbooks, fill-in-the-blank worksheets, and multiple choice tests (I just loved this comment from the article!)


I would like tomorrow’s discussion to be about if and how everyone has encountered faculty requiring/introducing primary source research, and how you or your professors have used it successfully.



All RIOT: communicating value with dwindling time

I’ve been looking at articles about communicating value, faculty librarian collaboration, outreach, etc. until I want to barf. I can’t find anything that grabs me and swings me around, so I am going to pose some thoughts about communicating value. Sorry to not have an article.

First, a positive thought. Luis Carcamo-Huechante was overjoyed with the results of his UGS class “The Art of Human Rights.” He had three different library sessions, including Krystal and myself doing an instruction session, Christian Kelleher at the Benson doing a session on how (and why) one would want to use an archive, and T-Kay did one on how the libraries is approaching archiving fragile human rights materials. He said that students responded positively to all of the sessions, and is hoping to repeat the class in the future. He came by a couple of weeks ago and was adamant that the course would not have worked without the contributions of the libraries.

Next, a frustration. The value of the Benson is not difficult to communicate to most faculty. However, what they value (usually the archives), and how they want their students to use the Benson (usually the archives) isn’t always the best use of the library or their students’ time . I constantly have these poor undergrads coming in and needing to find primary resources in the archives on their topics. Usually topics  like immigration along the Texas border, or Mayan astronomy.  More often than not we end up finding the primary source online, or in our regular collection, and I fear how a professor will react to that.

Finally, I would like to a few minutes discussing continuing to communicate value in the face of dwindling time/resources/ability to collaborate on multiple levels, including instruction.

Web searching and our students

In the classes I have taught and reference transactions I have had over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about searching on the web, and how our students understand it and do it (or at times don’t understand it and don’t do it well)

When we talk about information literacy, we always talk about lifelong learning, but we also run up against the problem that our students won’t necessarily be able to use the databases they have access to as a student. So I thought maybe we could spend part of this RIOT talking about the web – how we each teach searching (whether we’re teaching it in a database and relating it to the web, or specifically teaching web searching).

There have been some big news stories recently that I think are great examples to use when teaching web searching, both problems Google has had and their responses to it, in addition to new search features in Google and how that might affect searching that we all do.

So how do you teach web searching? Do you mostly use Google, or do you recommend other search engines? Do you explain how searching works, or how result ranking works? Do you think it’s important for the average web surfer to know what is going on behind the scenes of his or her search?

Following is a mix of news articles about search problems and search improvements (with a few official Google announcements mixed in) that are affecting how Google searches work . . .

Most recent new algorithm announcement, in an attempt to move link farms lower in results:

The JC Penney controversy:

November – the glasses retailer that used negative reviews to stay at the top of search results:
And, of course, Google’s response:

Personalize search results by reading level

Google Instant and Instant Previews

Other potential topics, if anyone has used them –
Google Social Search
Google Art Project –

Search process as web evaluation

“I usually click on the first thing that I see.” Asked to clarify how she decides to pick the first result, she emphasized, “Well, I know the ones that are […] in here [pointing to the shaded Sponsored Link section on a Google results page] they’re the most relevant to what I’m looking for.”

Article: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content

I chose this article in thinking about because of its relevance to what we all do as instructors in today’s climate – attempting to reach students and speak a language that they understand, in terms of how they look for information and how they find and decide to use it.

This study was somewhat unique in that instead of looking at the steps people used to evaluate sources after they located them, it focused on how they arrive at those sources in the first place as a component of evaluation. I don’t think the information is necessarily revolutionary – any of us could probably pull similar answers out if asked, but this study is nice in that it validates what we know but don’t always have data to back up, and it is research done not by librarians but by communications researchers, all of whom focus on new media.

If you want a good down and dirty overview, here is an entry about it from ReadWriteWeb –

The research was conducted like a usability test – researchers observed students doing searches for answers to canned questions, audio was recorded, and there was some follow-up.

The reason they focused on how sources were arrived at in the first place was that they felt sources were chosen as much because of where they fell in search results as the results of content evaluation. Some of their related findings that are relevant to us:

  1. Over 25% of respondents chose sites because they were the first result in a search engine, not because of the site’s content
  2. Only 10% of respondents even mentioned an author or credentials when completing tasks (“However, examining the screen captures of the tasks being performed makes it clear that even among those participants, none actually followed through by verifying either the identification or the qualifications of the authors whose sites gave them the information they deemed to be providing the best solution for the tasks at hand.”
  3. Many respondents expressed trust in .org sites, saying that they were more trustworthy than .com sites.
  4. Among our sample of 102 participants, overall 60% stated, at one point or another that they would contact an institution such as a university or governmental agency for information. Broken down by method of contact, 52% of the sample suggested placing a phone call, while 17% said they would send an email to the organization. Professionals, both medical and educational, were second on the list of those whom participants would contact offline with a fifth of our respondents suggesting that they would pursue this method.
  5. One of their conclusions was that instructors “must start by recognizing the level of trust that certain search engines and brand names garner from some users and address this in away that is fruitful to a critical overall evaluation of online materials.”

The questions this article made me think about relate to what we can do speak to our students about web evaluation in a way that is relevant to them, and include more of a focus on the search process itself as a component of evaluation. This is where I would like to focus RIOT discussion . . .

Learning Environments: Where Space, Technology and Culture Converge

The question the article poses is this: “What would we see, then, if we traveled forward in time?”

This question really struck me because we are adding on to our house, and the architect who is helping us create the space had us do a similar exercise. Imagine ourselves in 20 years (and all points between now and then) still living in the same house. How would our needs evolve over the years, and how could we plan to fulfill all of those changing needs with one set of plans. This really made us think about our future, and what our lives and needs in a living space might look like in coming years. This made me begin to play with the idea of how learning environments might change our physical (and virtual) teaching spaces in the libraries, and what library instruction would even look like down the road.

The article begins by describing how the College classroom of 1900 looks much like its current equivalent, with books, chalkboards, erasers, but no IPhones, projectors or laptops. Today’s technology has forced us to rethink where and how learning takes place, due to technology, but also due to a reassessment of non-technological factors. Creating learning environments that ‘promote active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning and knowledge creation’ has become one of the most challenging issues for educators. Technology creates the possibility of changing where learning takes place, but often we even model these new environments on traditional spaces (conferencing software using the visual model of traditional meeting rooms ).

Learning environment means more than a space, however. It “ encompasses learning resources and technology, means of teaching, modes of learning, and connections to societal and global contexts. “ For instance, having a network connection, computer and projector enable one to import anything available on the Internet into the learning space, potentially drastically changing the environment. The difficulty becomes balancing the insulated environment of traditional classrooms with the benefits of bringing the world in.

Some of the trends that came to my mind as I was reading this:
1. Distance learning
2. Potential shifts away from traditional textbooks
3. More support staff involved in class creation (including librarians)
4. Project-based learning
5. Where students will be getting their information from in the future

What does library-instruction look like in the future? What will we be teaching to students? How?

Bridging the Overly Clichéd Gap

A couple of weeks ago we were meeting with our 398T instructors and we were discussing first year undergraduates’ exposure to databases prior to UT. Some of us had noticed that a lot more students seem to be arriving having already searched library databases than in the past. So I emailed four school librarians to find out a little more about this. Responses are summarized below.

Then this afternoon I saw an article from the most recent LOEX Currents about how they are addressing this issue in California. Here is a link to the article – Sequential Information Literacy Instruction (ILI): What, Why and How?

It is about a group of California librarians and their efforts to look sequentially between K-12, College and post college (Public libraries) settings, and whether and how information literacy can be addressed in a connected way. I thought he most interesting part of this article was the table that showed information literacy topics and how they are addressed by the different librarians.

I’m not suggesting we try a similar effort in Texas ourselves (although this might be something interesting for people within TLA to do), since we all have plenty on our plate, but I do think it might serve to inform us about whether our students are having similar or dissimilar ‘library’ experiences in high school, and how those experiences might affect their view of us and how relevant libraries are to research once they get here. And as I’m typing, I’m wondering if it might actually be relatively simple to do a survey like this and send it out to TASL (TX Assoc. of School Librarians) to see what kind of answers we might get on a larger scale? So with that in mind, here is the tiny, completely informal questions I sent and their responses:

Here are the questions I asked them

1. What do you do as far as instruction for your students? Is it formal (library instruction to classes), informal (whoever asks when they’re looking for something in the library), etc.? What percentage of your students do you see in these interactions (totally rough guesstimate)

2. What databases do you have, and how are they paid for – is there a common set among all TX public schools/high schools?

3. If not, do you decide which ones to subscribe to? If not, who does?

And here are the three good/interesting responses:

1. AISD uses the databases that were paid for by TexShare.

Here is a link to my webpage and it shows what we have access to.  When I taught middle school we would use it a lot too, but it was in a different state, so I don’t know if you are interested in that.

2. [this is from a librarian who works for Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, so she’s more of a support person for librarians in the schools, hence the somewhat sales-person type response] We are doing everything we can to get the databases into the hands of students, teachers, parents, etc., etc.! In our school libraries, we are exposing students through whole class instruction, on-the-fly instruction, and even parent sessions in the evenings. NISD has been invited to the TX Capitol School House in January where we’ll have two of our schools represented with students, librarian, technology instructor, and admin. I publish a quarterly newsletter spotlighting database use in the district called Database Showcase

We’ve also recently purchased a federated search product through WebFeat and have Elementary, Middle School, and Professional profiles, with each High School having an individual profile with their catalog and campus specific databases included.

Please take a look at our district database page to see our district-wide subscriptions:

We get some through K-12 Databases: TEA, our regional service center, and Texas State Library & Archives Comm. and some are purchased through Library Services.

3. Our instruction varies depending on the age of the student. Our pre-K Kinder librarian actually has lessons for the little ones on databases.

By the time they get to the high school, we usually teach them in context with their research, except for a lesson that I do for seniors at the beginning of the year on how our databases can help them with colleges and careers. We have collaborated with our technology department on a website called Research Central, where we pre-select the databases and steer the students towards them and away from pure Google:

I started a program called Pirate POWER (Parent Online Web Education Resources) that we put on the first Tuesday night of every month. We show high school parents how to access information on their students through our school web site, and how to use data bases. In 2 months, we have seen 3 parents (0 the first time, so it’s improving).

We have EBSCO and Brittanica, (A.J. all schools can access those for free right now – could be the reason that more of your students have recently been knowledgeable – we should use your letter to convince our legislators that this needs to continue to be funded), but we also subscribe to Facts on File and Gale (we get Testing and Resource Center and Opposing Viewpoints through them also). Our dual credit kids had a real revelation this year when their on-line professor required that they use academic journals. We pay for those through the library, but we code it to curriculum. The librarians have made these choices in the past, but this year we have formed a committee made up of librarians, tech. folks, and teachers. They will be making the decision for next year.

I heard yesterday that the new ELA TEKS have a re-newed emphasis on research. I expect that might also impact our use of databases. Now if I could only get my teachers to use them.

Conclusion: This is just to give us a little more idea about our undergraduates, and specifically what research/library-specific experiences they might have had before they came to UT. This is totally unscientific – would it be worth doing a short survey that would reach many more librarians in K-12, or even just in high schools, to see how they promote information literacy and/or library tools?