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DART Recap: Teaching Evaluation

Recap by Mitch Cota

The latest DART session began with a working paper by Sam Wineberg and Sarah McGrew, called “Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information.” It was utilized to initiate a discussion around how we evaluate sources as individuals from different levels of education and different professional backgrounds. The article was about a case study into how four different groups of people at Stanford, history PhDs and faculty, undergraduates, and fact checkers, evaluate sources for their trustworthiness. They were each given two articles to evaluate under a time limit. Next, they were given a legal case and asked to find out who funded the plaintiffs legal fees, since they were children. Each group included in the study approached the problem with their specific skill sets in an effort to evaluate the source which led to different outcomes.

The historians approached the problem through a deep evaluation of the articles themselves, a vertical reading. Their specialization in primary documents led them to analyzing the articles for themselves, and shying away from activating any links that would lead to other sites and lateral reading. The fact checkers focused on examining each aspect of the article through lateral reading. This meant that they would activate multiple windows in their browser to search for more information on different people, organizations, and topics. It also meant they utilized the different links presented throughout the articles.

I am of course simplifying the process and I would encourage anyone invested in source evaluation to look further into the article for more details. The reason for presenting this article to our DART discussion was to examine how we can effectively include the idea of lateral reading into literacy instruction within the different UT groups we each support. In the age of linked data, we need to reevaluate the way we evaluate sources. Lateral reading provides for less reading while increasing the researchers ability to enact a more critical eye when evaluating sources.

Particular attention was paid to the current climate in relation to information consumption and evaluation. When multiple news outlets and content producers are being called into question, it is of the utmost importance that we begin to evolve our discussion around source evaluation in an effort to provide information consumers with the tools necessary to be successful. There was a consensus around the difficulties in assessment of the success of different approaches. The CRAP test was called into question specifically. The use of a checklist was seen as a failure in providing students with the skills necessary to discern quality resources. With every checklist, there is a new issue introduced that can negate its effectiveness.

So, if we are moving away from the CRAP test and checklists are showing to be less effective, where does that leave us in the classroom? The gamification of evaluation was discussed as a highly effective way to get students engaged around source evaluation without producing checklist-like results. An apt comparison was given about the students ability to effectively evaluate the social media presence of an individual they know, and an analogy drawn to the same toolset being effective in source evaluation. It was a bridge that was stated to be a move in the future that could reframe the students perspective on their ability to evaluate sources.

The takeaways from the discussion focused on:

  • Lateral reading as a necessary skill in source evaluation
  • Balancing vertical reading versus lateral reading based on topic, discipline, and professional background
  • Encouraging a broader and greater level of critical analysis
  • Accepting that experience still plays a large role in source evaluation, so there are limitations to what can be gained by incoming students and researchers
  • Focusing on habits of mind and ways of assessing these different skill sets we are providing
  • Establishing a way to break down the thought process that has become involuntary to those who have fine-tuned their ability to evaluate resources
  • Increasing a general assessment of the “lay of the land” when approaching the analysis of an article
  • Emphasizing the positive outcomes of “leaving the page” when analyzing online content

This topic is something that affects us all to some extent, whether in our professional library setting or personal lives. The article is a bit longer, but definitely worth the read as it stimulated quite a bit of conversation around what we are doing now and what we could move towards in the future. I would invite everyone to definitely take a look!

Do you have an article or topic you would like to bring to DART? Feel free to contact Elise Nacca with any ideas and feedback!

social explorer logo

TLS Tips: Resource Spotlight – Social Explorer

 Social Explorer is a useful tool for helping answer questions about U.S. demographics. It enables users to focus on a particular geographic area, such as a state, city, town or neighborhood. Users can also build tables to compare historical Census data.

The visualization tools help researchers create, customize and display their demographic projects and reports. Social Explorer would be an excellent resource for researchers in history, geography, public health, and the social sciences.

Building reports with Social Explorer Tables is a bit easier. The maps and other visualization tools are more complicated, so encourage researchers to use the Help pages and tutorials.

Users can browse 220 years of census data with tens of thousands of maps, hundreds of reports, over 400,000 variables and 40 billion data elements.

You can access current and historical demographic data, including US data:

  • S. Census data from 1790 to 2010
  • American Community Survey data from 2005 to 2014 (this is data is based on sampling, but contains more demographic and social data than Census)
  • FBI Uniform Crime Report data (2010 and 2012)
  • American election results (1912 to 2014)
  • Religious Congregations and Membership Study (1980 to 2010)
  • Vulcan Project carbon emissions data (2002)
  • County Health Rankings and Roadmaps Program data (2010 to 2016)

and International data: 

  • United Kingdom Census (2011)
  • Canadian Census (2011)
  • Eurostat (1990, 2000, 2010 to 2013)
  • World Development Indicators (2013)
  • Irish religion and population data (1911 to 2001)

You can also visualize data:

  • Create custom and user-friendly maps
  • Explore interactive maps with over 200 years of data
  • Compare maps using the Side-By-Side Maps Tool to display 2 maps at once
  • Create data reports with the Reporting Tools in Excel, CSV, and other file formats
  • Use the Swipe Map Tool to visualize differences between variable and time periods
  • Use the Storyboard Tool to create multi-map presentations
  • Save, share and manage your projects using your My Explorer account

Social Explorer can be accessed by searching in the Database tab in scoUT. Users will also need to create a personal account in order to use the PRO edition of Social Explorer remotely, and to save, share and collaborate on projects.

Laura Gienger
(pronouns she/her/hers)
Ask a Librarian Intern, Perry-Castañeda Library
MSIS Candidate, School of Information Spring 2017
The University of Texas at Austin


RIOT: December 12, 2016 – Teaching in the Learning Labs

The learning labs have been in use for three full semesters.  Since many of us have had a chance to teach in these spaces and with our new technology, we thought this would be a good time to discuss teaching in these spaces.

As a starting place for this discussion, our TLS GRA, Molly Roy found this article:, which discusses the TPACK Framework and information literacy instruction.  We were interested in this article because it advocates for technology as a tool to support content learning and sound pedagogy.

As you prepare for this RIOT, here are a few questions to think about:

  1. Has the technology in the learning labs changed how you teach?  Has this been positive or negative for your teaching overall?
  2. What was your reaction to the TPACK framework discussed in the article and the suggested activity for planning classes with post-it notes?  Is this how you think about your classes?  Would it help to do so in the future?
  3. Are there particular learning outcomes that you feel you’ve been able to teach more effectively because of the technology in a learning lab?
  4. Sharing of tips and tricks you’ve learned after 18 months in the learning labs.

We can’t wait to chat about teaching in the labs and planning to effectively incorporate technology into library instruction!  See you 12/12 at 11 A.M. in Learning Lab 3.

RIOT Recap – Instruction for Graduate Students

Janelle and Roxanne led a discussion of instruction for graduate students, talking about different articles they had read about the topic and comments they had solicited via this blog before the discussion.  One of the most common questions submitted by fellow RIOTers was about whether or not graduate students come into the class with different levels of preparedness and, if so, how do you handle it?

The answer was a resounding “yes” but one of the unique characteristics of this population is that they understand how valuable to their work as graduate students what librarians are going to teach them.  One way to handle that discrepancy in preparedness is to capitalize on their natural interest and teach them a variety of skills and tools.  Even though some will know some of it, they definitely won’t know all of it and will find value in many areas of the session.   Librarians who regularly teach graduate students agreed that there isn’t a need to struggle to engage this level of students as there is with undergraduates.

The group discussed the different needs graduate students have and how these needs also change depending on where they are in their program.  For example, someone working on their first systematic review will need something different than students writing their dissertation lit reviews or dissertation proposals.  All of them, however, need help understanding what is expected of them when doing this type of research and tools and techniques for finding, evaluating and managing relevant resources.

One tool that is effective with a graduate student population, because of their understanding of how the library will be valuable to their work, is research orientations at the beginning of the semester.  Issues of timing and tying to a particular assignment aren’t necessarily as important with this population.  Roxanne also discussed a workshops program for grad students at another university that was effective.

RIOT–May 17, 2016

Instruction for graduate students

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


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

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CC Kati Fleming, July 4, 2013.,_Eremophila_alpestris,_nestlings_begging,_baby_birds,_gape_colors,_leaping_in_nest_Alberta_Canada_(1).jpg

RIOT Recap – Creating Effective Guides

Cindy led her final RIOT yesterday (bon voyage, Cindy!) on the topic of creating effective guides.  Here’s her initial blog post.  In light of our upcoming transition to LibGuides, this was a timely and necessary conversation for librarians at UTL.

Cindy started off the conversation by sharing some best practices of web design, many stemming from Using Guides to Enhance Library Services.  Cindy found chapter 6, about integrating teaching and learning into guides, especially helpful.  Using this chapter as a jumping-off point, Cindy began a conversation about the relationship between a design and learning.  Paying attention to things like the visual hierarchy of the guide, for example, can help the reader find what he or she is looking for.  Thinking about rest and focal areas, and using the hot spots (in an “F” pattern on the page) to emphasize important content can also be very effective.  Text is also an important consideration.  Using LibGuides advocates for cutting the amount of text you want to use on a guide in half, twice.  Cindy concurs.  Instead of text-heavy sections, use bullets, integrate bold and italic text, and add images to illustrate steps.  Also think about the appropriate tool for the task you’d like a guide to teach.  Guide on the side is really good for step-by-step or “clicky” tasks, while a video might be better for something conceptual.  At this point in the conversation, accessibility came up as another consideration, particularly when using color or media.  In short, this book (and Cindy), advocates for writing on the web that is concise, objective, and scannable, and to think about these as an instructional tool that requires not only good web design, but good instructional design too.  This is something to keep in mind as we transition to LibGuides.

When LibGuides came up, Cindy suggested that we work from a template (which we will) and that we think of guides as an extension of the library spaces.  We strive to provide consistent excellent service across library branches, and our guides should be no different.  They should provide consistently excellent and usable paths to our resources.  Since there will be no gatekeeper to posting guides, it is up to the guide creators to employ best practices and to seek out assistance if they need it.

As we talked a bit more about libguides, we came up with a few ways to make them into effective instructional objects.  Approaches included:

  1. embedding other kinds of tutorials, depending on learning outcomes, as mentioned above (Guide on the Side, Videos, etc).,
  2. using the tabs to help student progress through the steps of the assignment, with acknowledgement that they may have to repeat steps in iterative processes like topic selection, and
  3. using guides to funnel students to consultations and emails.

More training and information about the implementation of LibGuides will be forthcoming, but this was a great beginning to the conversation about making these guides as effective as possible.  In the meantime, please visit the Learning Technologies SharePoint site to see what other options you have for supporting teaching online.  

Thanks for such a great RIOT, Cindy!   

RIOT: On reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referenced source:

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

Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction

During the month of July, I took an online course offered via Library Juice Academy entitled, “Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction” taught by Maria Accardi. Each week, we read a chapter of Accardi’s book, helpfully titled Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, posted to a discussion board, and interacted with other students’ posts.

I found the book eminently readable: educational, personal, and entertaining. I highly recommend it for anyone remotely interested in this topic. I (gleefully) found that I already had some feminist pedagogical instincts and that it was a short step to infusing my regular teaching practices with a few tweaks to make them more feminist.

Everyone in the class had one learning outcome in common: to better understand feminist theory in terms of pedagogy and what that means for our own library instruction practices. I took it one step further and tacked on being able to explain feminist pedagogy and why it’s important in my own words. As I learned, a big part of feminist theory is making things your own and appreciating different ways of knowing. This is a departure from lecture-style delivery and quantitative assessment that were my go-to techniques.

The major elements of feminist pedagogy that popped out to me are as follows:

  • De-centering the classroom: moving from a traditional, patriarchal, authoritative “sage on the stage” delivering lecture-style lessons to students who are viewed as empty vessels toward more of a “guide on the side” approach who puts the students at the center of the lesson
  • Privileging marginalized voices and ways of knowing: a feminist classroom makes room for alternate ways of knowing, which could take many forms; for the library classroom it raised my awareness of the need for a variety of input mechanisms, not just students raising their hands and giving factual answers on the spot, but perhaps allowing for written answers, story-telling, etc. to make sure voices are heard that may be lost in a conventional classroom
  • Consciousness-raising about societal injustice: considering it a duty to infuse the class with social issues; one excellent example was using search terms that would elicit thought-provoking search results in databases (like “women in engineering”)
  • Ethic of care: “feminist teachers demonstrate sincere concern for their students as people and as learners.” In librarian work, we already talk about our role in creating lifelong learners and equipping students with the skills to interpret information in their daily lives. This one was a no-brainer for me.

The book covers many other issues, for instance Accardi’s critical take on the ACRL framework, feminist approaches to assessment, classrooms and libraries as “neutral” places (spoiler: they aren’t neutral), limitations of feminist pedagogy, what happens when students don’t want to be active participants in their own learning, and how to sell coworkers and faculty on this approach. It also has a healthy dose of encouragement for any librarians/feminists/instructors who want to try something new and feel like they are going out on a limb.

It was really nice to interact with the other students (there was an AD, a public librarian, and a variety of others), but the book is short and engaging and you will certainly feel empowered just by reading it, in lieu of taking the class. Highly recommended! And I’d be more than happy to talk with you about any questions you may have about this post.

TLS TIPS: Summertime…and the teaching is easy

The end of the semester always feels weird to me. As classes wind down and I find myself with more open blocks in my calendar, it usually takes me a while to transition from the stop-and-go pace of class planning to the long haul of projects that I have lined up for the summer. It can be all too easy to set the teaching aspect of my job largely aside for a few months, but I know I’ll be better off in the fall if I use the slower pace of summer to work on my teaching practice. I searched online to see if I could find any good ideas for  ways to systematically think about teaching during the summer, and found a post on the ProfHacker blog focused on “looking backward and forward” at the end of the academic semester. While some of the tips are specific to faculty (let’s all be glad we don’t have grades to submit), many of the ideas translate to our work. Here are a few things I plan to do this summer to keep my mind on my teaching and my teaching on my mind.

Review & renew online teaching materials

I often forget that the students I teach are likely to spend more time with the course research guides I create than they spend with me in the classroom. When I’m in a hurry to plan classes, the course guide sometimes becomes an afterthought. Summer is a great time to take an in-depth look at SubjectsPlus guides and other online materials we use and refresh them where needed. I plan to spend some time creating at least one brand new guide for a class that I know I’ll work with in the fall so that when things do get busy, I’ll have a great template to use for other guides. In TLS, we usually review and update our “how-to guides” during the summer. If you see something that needs our attention, let us know.

Revisit conference notes/bookmarks/inspiration

I’m sure we’ve all experienced it. You go to a conference and see tons of great ideas, but jump right back into the fray before you can put anything into action. I’m going to set aside some time this summer to go through my notes from ACRL and find things I want to try in the fall. Since I’ll be revamping a lot of my lesson plans anyway to prepare for our new Learning Labs, this is a great opportunity to take a closer look at my teaching practices overall to make sure they don’t get too stale. I also have a list of articles and links I bookmarked throughout the semester that I didn’t have time to fully investigate. Many of these are related to using technology in the classroom, so I’ll use the summer to make a short list of things I want to try out when the Learning Labs are ready.

Look at data & feedback

I can’t seem to write one of these posts without sneaking in something about assessment. I usually spend a lot of time in the summer analyzing data, so assessment is already on my mind. I think that summer is the perfect time to look for trends in how are students might be changing and what’s working or not working in our teaching. Something I’ve been thinking about lately (and that seems to be reflected in our UGS post-test results) is how difficult it is to fully convey the keyword brainstorming process, especially when students are at the beginning stages of refining their topic selection. I’m not sure how to approach this issue differently (let me know if you have ideas) but the data I’ve been looking at reminded me to think about it. If you have any feedback or data to review, now is the time to do it. If not, personal reflection can help you pinpoint specific areas to focus on.

Before we know it, summer will be over and we’ll be back to the grind. Do you have any tips for using this time to improve your teaching? Please comment if you do.

What We Shared at the Active Learning Sandbox

On March 31, Roxanne and I held an Active Learning Sandbox with  people from around the Libraries who were interested in sharing ideas about how they incorporate active learning into their classrooms.  Here are a few of the many great ideas that were shared.  I’ve put an asterisk next to those that don’t require technology.  I’m sure there are others I failed to capture and ideas out there that other people have.  Feel free to add anything in the comments.

Keywords and Boolean logic:

  • *Think, pair, share:  Have students take their own research topics/questions and turn them into keywords.  Then pair students up, have them share their keywords with each other and give each other ideas.
  • *Finding keywords in a source:  Either give or have students find a source (such as an encyclopedia or an abstract from a paper), have them find keywords within it, and have them use those keywords to build a search.
  • *Stand up, sit down Boolean logic:  Ask students to stand up if they are wearing jeans.  Then ask those who are wearing jeans and have brown hair to stay standing to demonstrate AND.  Then ask students who are wearing jeans or have brown hair to stand to demonstrate OR.  (Play with your terms – it doesn’t have to be jeans and brown hair).
  • Keyword tool:  Bring up the keyword tool for everyone to see and, using a sample topic, fill it out together.  It demonstrates visually how keywords are combined using AND and OR.

Evaluating Sources:

  • *Building evaluation criteria:  Put students in groups and have them review a source (either online or one you’ve printed for them) and write down what criteria they used to determine the source’s credibility.  After giving them time to do this in groups, have each group report out one criteria, discuss it, and add it to the board.  By the end you should have built a list of evaluation criteria together.  This can be used with any type of source and you can either preselect it or have them search for something themselves.  For more details, see this blog post.
  • *Why does this source exist?:  Provide a variety of sources to students, some that would be better for an assignment and some that wouldn’t be.  Use these sources to discuss choosing good sources, with an emphasis on purpose.  Katherine Strickland uses this approach with classes in the Map Room where she shows them different maps of the same place (such as a CIA map and a Chamber of Commerce or Cracker Barrel map) and asks them to evaluate them.
  • *Archival sources: select items from an archival collection (could be print or digital) and ask students to analyze those items with specific questions to answer.  These questions should be customized to the class and materials but could include questions about what you learn by comparing drafts with notes to final printed/published versions, or how the format itself provides meaning.  Kelly kindly shared two examples she and Christian use at the Benson.  If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll send them to you.

Source Types:

  • *Evaluating scholarly sources:  if students have to use peer-reviewed sources but don’t know what they are, instead of telling them what they are, use an activity where they will end up explaining it to you.  Divide them into groups, give them a source either online or one you’ve printed out for them, have them answer a series of questions and then use those answers together as a group to build a definition of what scholarly sources are and how they are useful.  For more details, see this blog post.
  • *Popular versus scholarly:  choose a topic and give students an example of a popular source and a scholarly source on that topic. It could even be a popular source reporting on a scholarly one (ie; a health magazine reporting on a recent scientific study).  Have students explore and discuss the difference between these two source types.
  • *Archival sources: select items from an archival collection (could be print or digital) and ask students to analyze those items with specific questions to answer.  These questions should be customized to the class and materials but could include questions about what you learn by comparing drafts with notes to final printed/published versions, or how the format itself provides meaning.  Kelly kindly shared two examples she and Christian use at the Benson that I am happy to share if you email me.

Choosing and Searching a Tool:

  • Poll everywhere:  Give them a topic such as “Does eating late in the day cause weight gain?” and then ask students to identify at least two databases that are good choices to search for articles on this topic via PollEverywhere.  As students enter their answers and they scroll by, comment on them. (e.g., “Pediatric Nutrition Care Manual is actually a handbook, with chapters, so it’s not a good choice for this particular question, because we need to find articles.” “Academic Search Complete has articles on a variety of subject areas, and has both popular and peer-reviewed articles, so it’s a good starting database for almost any topic.”)
  • *Best tool for the job:  Use a worksheet or a GoogleForm and ask students to consider what type of information they need for their project and where they might find it.  (Ex: statistics from the government; research studies from journals).  You can set this up for students to do in groups if they are working on group projects, individually, or in groups on a topic you give them.  Review and discuss what they come up with and discuss which tools are the best for different information needs.

Other :

  • *How to Read a Scientific Article:  Roxanne teaches this in sections of an upper-division NTR class with a writing flag, where (some) students seriously engage with scientific literature for the first time. Working in pairs, students answer questions about a section—introduction, methods, results, discussion—of a scientific research article. The article title and abstract have been redacted. The pairs of students then compare their answers with the answers of student-pairs who had other sections of the article.
  • *Finding Books:  Laura takes students into the stacks to engage with the art and art history literature.  She writes down call numbers on cards and has groups of students find the books and then report back about what they found.  They learn how the library is organized and how to browse for additional information.