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:
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:
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?
Carolyn led a lively discussion at today’s RIOT based on her reading of Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instructionand 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 theBlack 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!