All posts by grace

TLS Tips: Trying New Teaching Techniques from Conferences or Colleagues

You discovered a new teaching method, technique, lesson, activity, etc. from a conference or colleague. How can you incorporate it into your own teaching?

Something I picked up from ACRL is the BEAM method. I had heard of it before, but had only seen it used in upper division undergraduate classes (junior and senior research seminars). At ACRL, Meredith Farkas talked about how she used BEAM when teaching first-year students how to do research.[i]So, should I try it with first-years in my own UGS classes? How? I ended up following this path to figure out how to incorporate the new method into my own teaching: Own It, Apply It, Try It.

What is BEAM?
Before I go into my example, I should explain that BEAM was a method created by Joseph Bizup in 2008 to teach research-based writing strategy.[ii] According to Bizup, these are the four main ways you can incorporate outside sources into a paper:
• Background – using a source to provide general information to explain the topic.
• Exhibit – using a source as evidence or examples to analyze.
• Argument – using a source to engage its argument.
• Method – using a source’s way of analyzing an issue to apply to your own issue.[iii]

Own it
BEAM could be taught in a variety of ways: a lecture, a handout or box on a course guide, an active learning activity, etc. Any of those methods of delivery are valid. But when I thought about how I would teach with BEAM, I thought that facilitating a discussion about the four categories would be the best fit for my critical pedagogy.

In the last Classroom Teaching Series (Active Learning Sandbox), Michele and Roxanne talked about developing authentic teaching styles. What works from one person might not work for you. Can you own the technique and make it yours? Maybe not, maybe so. You may need to tweak the delivery of a certain kind of lesson so that it works for you.

Apply it
I wasn’t sure that a discussion on BEAM would apply in any of my one-shot sessions. But I kept the idea in the back of my mind. And sure enough, an opportunity presented itself. A multi-section class had an assignment that required them to find only one source outside of the course materials. I anticipated that students would struggle to find one “perfect” source, and I thought it might help if they approached the search by thinking critically about how they would use an outside source to strengthen their paper: Would the outside source provide context (Background), act as an example to analyze (Exhibit), engage with the argument they’re making (Argument), or provide a framework for how to make their own arguments (Method)?

Try it
Before trying it out in class, I came up with a strategy for some formative assessment. To measure whether or not BEAM worked (for me and for this class), I had these two questions:
1. Were students engaged in the discussion?
2. Did they then use BEAM vocabulary when consulting with me during active learning?

In the first section, the conversation resonated with the students and they were, indeed, using the BEAM vocabulary to ask me questions. Example of a student question: “I’m comparing these two films, but I want to talk about how they are a product of the times. So, I need a Background source. What is a good database that can provide some historical background?” Having this vocabulary and understanding definitely made stuents more strategic about their searching before they even asked me a question. Most students decided to use the course materials as Exhibits and to use their one outside source as Background or Argument. After determining that it worked, I decided to move forward and use it in the next two sections and it also resonated with those students.

Moving forward
I’m still thinking about other ways to use BEAM for other classes. Whether you are using BEAM or any other new teaching technique, remember to Own it, Apply it, Try it.

For more information on BEAM:
Rubick, Kate. “Flashlight: Using Bizup’s BEAM to Illuminate the Rhetoric of Research” (presentation, Library Instruction West, Portland, OR, July 7, 2014).
Woodward, Kristin M. and Ganski, Kate L., “BEAM Lesson Plan” (2013). UWM Libraries Instructional Materials. Paper 1.

[i] Meredith Farkas, “Good for What? Teaching Sources for Sustainable Lifelong Information Literacy” (presentation, Association of College and Research Libraries, Portland, OR, March 25-28, 2015).

[ii] Joseph Bizup. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27, no.1 (2008): 72-86.

[iii] “How to Use a Source: The BEAM Method,”Hunter College Libraries, last modified 2014,

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: Invite a GRA to Observe Your Teaching

As the TLS GRA, I’ve spent the fall semester co-teaching UGS courses with everyone in the TLS department. The insight I’ve gained from observing and practicing different teaching styles and techniques has been invaluable. For this TLS Tip, I suggest that librarians who teach offer observational opportunities to other GRAs working in the libraries. Having a GRA observe your teaching can benefit both the GRA and yourself.

Most library jobs in Research and Instruction Services require a certain amount of teaching, but it’s difficult for new grads to make the leap from instruction theories learned in class to practical application. As one new librarian phrased it, “understanding pedagogical principles is one thing, applying them in front of thirty intimidating freshmen is quite another.”[1] For students in library school, opportunities to actively observe library instruction sessions are difficult to come by.

When approached using PROT methodology, having a GRA observe your teaching can benefit you as an instructor. Peer Review of Teaching involves having a short meeting before the classroom observation to communicate your learning outcomes, and then having a debrief meeting after the classroom observation to discuss how those learning outcomes were reached.[2] Having these dialogues with a GRA during planning and assessment can provide you with a fresh perspective and insight on your tried-and-true teaching methods.

To ensure that the GRA takes an active role in this observational process, I recommend providing your GRA with some points for him or her to focus on during observation that you can later discuss during your post-teaching meeting. Examples from Mentoring in Librarianship include:

  • A recounting of what took place, a simple observation
  • Which teaching proficiencies is the librarian is adept or excels at?
  • How is the teaching reflective of your beliefs about librarianship and teaching, and where, if at all, does it conflict?
  • Where in the session did students seem engaged, and to what does the GRA attribute their interest?
  • Did the GRA observe any activities he or she would like to recreate in his or her own teaching? Why?[3]

Remember that the purpose isn’t to evaluate your teaching, but to have a formative discussion about how and why you teach the way you do. My mentors and I have had many beneficial post-teaching discussions and it would be great for more GRAs to have that experience.

Enjoy the new semester!

[1] Aldridge, Emily Rae. “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that my colleagues would be my biggest asset.” from “What They Didn’t Tell Me (or what I didn’t hear) in Library School: Perspectives from New Library Instruction Professionals.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 52, no. 1 (2012) 28-29.
[2] Alabi, Jaena, and Weare, William H. “The Power of Observation: How Librarians can Benefit from the Peer Review of Teaching Even Without a Formal PROT Program” (presentation, Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy, Savannah, 23 Aug 2013).
[3] Smallwood, Carol and Tolley-Stokes, Rebecca.Mentoring in Librarianship: Essays on Working with Adults and Students to Further the Profession (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2011) 210.