Tag Archives: instructional design

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?

Discussion: Universal Design for Learning

Carolyn presented an article that experimented with using the Universal Design for Learning as a framework for course design. As she explains thoroughly in her blog post, Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles used to ensure sure that information and learning is accessible for all learning styles.  Universal Design sprouted from Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead of retrofitting buildings to make them accessible, Universal Design is a framework for building in principles of accessibility in at the very beginning of any design process.  Educators then took a page from Universal Design and applied the same approach to learning, hence Universal Design for Learning. These principal can be applied to K-12 as well as institutions of education. See cast.org/udl for more information.

Carolyn began the discussion by asking the group what we have done in terms of accommodating different learning styles.

Michele explained that she has taught to different learning styles as a way to accommodate different students. Even though she couldn’t accommodate for each learning style in every class (because there are many more learning styles than visual, kinesthetic or auditory), it is a best practice to try to accommodate them when you can.

As a group, we also discussed that sometimes it’s hard to try something new because the students do not know you as well as their classroom faculty and may not be as receptive.

Carolyn brought up the idea that perhaps there should be someone in the libraries who can assist other librarians in making learning materials more accessible to students of all learning styles.

Krystal described her experience with having a blind student in one of her classes. The student had brought his own laptop and had his screen reader. This experience helped her reflect on how to integrate a more accessible design into the classroom teaching experience. Someone asked about the course instructor’s experience. Krystal explained that the instructor had also learned how difficult it was for students with disabilities to attend UT because not all texts were available in Braille, so had to find alternative materials.

PG noted that Services to Students with Disabilities will provide audio text, but need to have access to materials ahead of time. He explained that within the libraries there is currently a posting for a  TIS position just for captioning.  He also explained some history on the topic of making texts accessible for studentes with disabilities.  For instance, in California, students sued in order to have access to materials in whatever format they wanted, whether they be audio or Braille.

Brittany explained that at her old institution, she taught a class with a deaf student. Her institution did have a librarian who worked part time to help accommodate students with disabilities within the libraries.  In this case, Brittany worked with her to create transcripts ahead of time for the student; she also created videos with captions, etc. She explained that it was a lot of work, but really seemed like it helped the student.

There was a question about using PowerPoint in the classroom. Most of us said we don’t normally use PPT in class because our teaching style is more discussion based, than lecture based. Additionally, students are often doing active learning or group work, — things that rely less on PowerPoint or other presentation software.

Meghan noted that while she doesn’t normally use PowerPoint, she found it useful to use in a class with many ESL students in the class with low English comprehension. Meghan used the PPT to as visual prompts in order to facilitate discussion.

Carolyn noted that LecShare could be used to check PPTs to make sure they are accessible.

Someone noted that they also had a hearing impaired student in a class once and the librarian was given a small microphone to wear in order to capture what was said. They noted that it makes you a lot more aware of what you are presenting!

We discussed how the idea of using UDL for International students especially since this population is less likely than other populations to admit that they don’t understand something said in class. This is likely a cultural difference rather than an indifference toward the course content. Michele noted that in one of her classes she did a lot of active learning so she could give one-on-one instruction when it seemed that certain students needed help, but they had to be prompted to share. We all agreed that joking around in class or using slang in order to connect with student is likely alienating for for non-native English speakers.

Marta shared that in order to demonstrate Boolean logic, she has students to stand up (If you have brown hair AND are wearing UGG boots) and that it worked.

Carolyn described that she read an article that forces students to “meditate” and would talk through what they are going to do that day.  She said it was a little weird. Michele added that these are college students and we should probably try to make them feel like they are adults with free-will.

Cindy explained a design thinking exercise she used in order to set the tone of the session that instead of a lecture, students would need to use problem-solving skills and creativity to find what they are looking for.

Carolyn asked an intentionally provoking question: Is there a time and a place for institutionalizing these concepts? Michele responded by saying that the best teachers are the ones that are comfortable with the way they are teaching. Instead of enforcing a certain kind of teaching, it’s better to provide colleagues with best practices and support.

Someone brought up a recently published article from the the Atlantic entitled, “Why lectures are good“. [ed note: however, there are also articles about Why the Lecture is Dead and What Comes After the Lecture“, so, I don’t think anything’s been decided.]

Carolyn, noted that in the 10 propositions for Universal Design Principals, assessment is mentioned a lot and and it also describes that “technology is essential for UDL”. We discussed how it really depends on how “technology” is defined. It could be anything from a pen and piece of paper to an iPad app. Krystal noted that it’s hard to get everyone on the same page, because there is so much room for interpretation. ANd PG added that flexibility needs to be the main thing.

Then we watched a video about UDL and noted that this video is obviously for a younger audience, though we could see how UDL is incorporated into college level work.

Marta noted that there are so many different kinds of media being used to demonstrate learning concepts; video, animation, infographics, texts. It’s hard to know when and where and how to select one to demonstrate an idea.


RIOT: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in Library Instruction

This RIOT post looks at an article by Ying Zhong that applies principles of Universal Design for Learning to library instruction course design.

UDL is a set of principles meant to be followed during course design that gives “all individuals equal opportunities to learn.” Developing curriculum that can be processed by a diverse student population is important as millennials, international students, and students with different learning styles come together in the classroom. Zhong’s article discusses the history of UDL, applies nine UDL principles to a library instruction lesson on Boolean searching, describes a survey given to students who received a UDL-infused class, and discusses directions for future research.


UDL originally comes from the concept of Universal Design (UD), which mostly applies to architecture. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act required that public buildings be retrofitted with ramps, elevators, and wider doorways. These changes accommodated wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments, and the idea caught on because other groups benefited. Curb cuts and closed captioning are examples of accommodations made for certain populations that ended up benefiting a variety of groups. Educators took notice of regulations that required accommodations for different kinds of students. The Center for Applied Special Technology extended UD to education by creating models that applied core principles to course design.

UDL Principles

I. REPRESENTATION: Provide content in different modes such as visual, graphic, or auditory

II. EXPRESSION: Provide students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned

III. ENGAGEMENT: Provide a variety of ways to involve students in learning

Faculty are legally required to provide some accommodations, which is usually done after the course is developed. UDL best practice has instructors apply these principles in the initial phases of course design, rather than retrofitting existing courses.

Applying UDL to Library Instruction

This is a new direction for UDL. The way in which UDL principles are most often applied in libraries is through providing assistive technology and services. In this article, Zhong goes further by applying nine UDL principles to a library instruction session that presents Boolean logic. This topic was chosen because it is an essential element of performing research, and is often presented graphically, which can be a difficult mode for some learners.

To get the full effect of applying these nine principles to a Boolean logic lesson, its best to read the article and check out the table. I will recreate the Representation section (provide content in different modes such as visual, graphic, or auditory) to give an idea of how much the preparation increases when thoughtfully applying UDL principles.


Traditional Instructional Methods
Instructor uses:

  • powerpoint presentation
  • lectures
  • notes
UDL Instructional Methods
Instructor uses:
  • accessible powerpoint to facilitate all students, including those with visual and hearing challenges
  • powerpoint has audio, video, and brief notes
  • powerpoint slides checked with LecShare software to meet ADA standards
  • syllabus, notes, handouts, and grading rubric are presented in both print and on webpage (both created as ADA accessible documents)
  • if video is used, synchronized, equivalent captions or transcripts should be provided
  • reading materials are online so that students with diverse needs can access materials with use of various technological supports (screen reader, text enlarger, online dictionary, etc.)

Zhong describes giving this UDL-infused lesson plan to two ENG 110 classes at California State University, Bakersfield. Fifty students received this instruction and completed a survey. The participants self-reported their preferred learning methods, some demographic information, and impairments or learning disorders. The findings showed that students preferred hands-on learning over lecture-style. They did, however, rely on powerpoint slides for concise notes. Group activities benefitted students more than individual learning exercises. Also, the students gave a positive evaluation to the application of UDL principles to their library instruction session.

Zhong concludes that more research is needed, and future experimentation should include a control group along with the experimental group receiving the UDL-infused lesson.

My take on this idea is that accessibility is a necessary part of any time in the classroom and instructors should strive to accommodate different styles of learning. Depending on the class, these guidelines could possibly serve as inspiration, while not necessarily being a requirement. To fully implement all of the recommendations laid out in this article would be very time-consuming for librarians juggling multiple departments and job duties. It does make sense to me, however, to have someone in an organization who can provide consultation on accessibility in course design.

To kick off our discussion, think about the following:

  • How do you accommodate different learning styles in the classroom?
  • What has worked well for your students?
  • Do you see this as an element of instruction that should be required or institutionalized? Meaning, should the UT Libraries require that instructors use certain principles when designing library instruction?
  • What multimedia or other elements do you incorporate to help out different kinds of learners?


You’re Out of Your Element – Students & Scholarly Publishing

Anne-Marie Deitering & Kate Gronemyer. (2011). Beyond peer-reviewed articles: Using blogs to enrich students’ understanding of scholarly work. portal: Libraries and the Academy 11(1), 489-503. Retrieved January 22, 2011 from Project MUSE database.

If I could hug an article, this one would get a big ol’ bear hug. I love the message, the ideas, the simplicity and the casual call-to-action embedded within.

Deitering and Gronemyer work closely with Oregon State University’s 200-level composition course (WR 222), much like our own Rhetoric 306/309. In the process of teaching library instruction classes to this population, they struggled with a way to help students effectively use peer-reviewed articles to write research papers or find evidence to support an argument.

As in other RIOT articles that we have discussed, the cognitive development plays a large role in finding, evaluating and using this information effectively. When it comes to mental models, generally students enter college with rigid ideas of absolute truths and exit with a more flexible understanding that knowledge is in flux. Deitering and Gronemyer cite the Reflective Judgement Model in particular because, “

[i]t is particularly useful in the context of information literacy instruction because it specifically examines how students understand the knowledge creation process and how they understand the value of expert or authoritative information. The model divides development into seven stages, grouped into three periods: pre-reflective thinking, quasi-reflective thinking, and reflective thinking. Pre-reflective thinkers still see knowledge as revealed and truths as absolute, while fully reflective thinkers know that knowledge is constructed and that there are problems for which there are no obvious solutions.

The ability to manage uncertainty within the massive streams of information that students consume is also, as Deitering and Gronemyer point out, a characteristic of an information literate person.

However, with a rigid understanding of what is right and wrong, the ability to actually use and interpret that scholarly information as evidence is incredibly difficult for undergraduates. It is even more difficult when they are introduced to this information without a context for the rules governing the process or how this information is used among the scholars with that field.

The latter point is one that I have never heard addressed in the literature before and because the authors make several good points about it, I’ll note them below:

  • Disciplines have shared standards that govern the process of creating new information.
  • The validation of research is crucial to building an archive of knowledge within a discipline.
  • Scholars never write to prove what is already accepted within that archive. Instead they use the archive to back up what their new research details.

Deitering and Gronemyer decide that for students to truly understand the place peer-reviewed articles in context, they must know that:

  • Research that inspires more research, more questions, and more inquiry is the best kind of research. Scholars are not trying to write the last word on their topics; to them, there is always another question to answer.
  • Relying on the ideas and the work of others makes an argument stronger, not weaker.

By incorporating the above ideas into a discussion of research, librarians or professors can show the importance and necessity behind disciplinary dialog. In fact, comparing different disciplinary models of publishing can also highlight the different information literacy skills that are intrinsically tied to a particular discipline.

We all understand the idea that asking students to read a peer-reviewed article without context is mostly bad pedagogy (and you aren’t going to win any five star Rate-My-Professor reviews). One of the authors cited in the article, Gerald Graff, differs by saying the real cause of the inability for undergraduates to comprehend scholarly literature is that it never specifically states why their research or their conclusions matter because to scholars, it’s all very obvious:

Graff further suggests that students not only fail to understand the significance of academic arguments but also (and more fundamentally) their purpose. They assume that academic authors want to win, or prevail, as one would in a debate. To students, winning an argument means that the argument is over. Academics engaged in normal science expect the argument will continue. This does not mean that they do not want to be convincing but that they want their contributions to the conversation to spark more ideas, more connections to other issues, and most of all, more research. Students often believe that a conclusion that is challenged or disputed is weak; scholars believe that conclusions so obvious that no one will argue with them are not worthy of publication; “claims that are arguable and solicit disagreement are a sign of an argument’s viability, not its failure.” In other words, where students see weakness, academics see impact.

On the contrary, what many of the students are accustomed to, across the disciplines, are the (supposedly) unbiased, “emotionless” textbook content that presents itself as an authoritative source, yet how often do we ask students to check the references in their textbooks or google the authors of specific chapters?

Deitering and Gronemyer suggest introducing students to blogs where scholars engage in these casual, yet extremely valuable conversations that contribute to their own research and publication processes.  The authors note in particular group discipline-specific blogs like Crooked Timber, Cliopatria or Cocktail Party Physics. This group of scholars will comment on each other’s work, while also fielding comments from the general public. Another blog, Wicked Anomie written by a graduate student, provides insight into the scholarly communication process while also addressing  how to teach this type of content using her personal narrative.  The authors also discuss specific tools like Google Blog search, Technorati, and also discipline-specific blogging sites that direct librarians to particular portals of blog content.

Using blogs in an instruction class may not be anything new, but the way in which the authors ask us to interpret and explain blogs in the context of scholarly communication is quite thought-provoking because:

  • it provides context for the subject matter, while showing a real-time conversation about that piece.
  • it shows that their voice does matter to a conversation (for example, one commenter on a scholarly blog was able to prove that research was plagiarized),
  • it will connect freely accessible content with proprietary journals that may not be available to students after they graduate.

So, now that blogs have been around the block for a while and their newness has rubbed off, what are you doing (or thinking about doing) with blogs that could incorporate the type of discussions mentioned in the article?