Creating a Departmental Instruction Activity Repository

Over the course of this semester, Brett and I have been challenging our instruction students to create and refine active learning exercise that they can use in class as part of their instruction training. The University of Alabama highly values active learning, and without it students tend to get lost in the new environment (the library’s instruction lab) with a new face (the instruction librarian). Our design goals for active learning exercises have been to provide students with the opportunity to engage with the content using their critical thinking skills.

Because we’ve asked them to design new exercises every week, and the three of them have amassed quite a library of activities. Over the past two weeks, they have had the opportunity to try their exercises out in the classroom to see what works and what doesn’t and have had the opportunity to refine their exercises accordingly.

I wanted to share a few examples of the activities that have been produced this semester. They are simple, and something that I like about both of them is that they ask students to take responsibility for their own learning.

The first is a Web Evaluation exercise that Karlie has created:

This exercise was created for use in an EN101 class. UA’s EN101 doesn’t have a large outside sources requirement, and for the one paper they do use outside sources for they usually let students use websites. The point of the paper is to teach students to synthesis information. Karlie’s exercise gives students clear guidelines for judging a website for authority and intent, which is the critical thinking component of the exercise, rather than giving them a set of rules based on domain. The exercise is completed in conjunction with a short (15 minute) class discussion about domain, authorship, intent and publication process.

The second exercise I’d like to share with you is Louise’s Source Evaluation game (you will have to follow the link to see the full game).

This game has been a great tool to engage students in a meta-cognitive practice before talking to them about source evaluation during session 2 for EN102 classes. She allows students to play the game as their first activity in class, and then engages them in a 15 minute theoretical talk about scholarly and popular sources. Because they have measured their incoming knowledge, students are aware of what they know and what they need to know before any discussion begins.

The exercises that Karlie, Louise and Alex have designed are being used very successfully in the classroom. When we asked them to begin designing them, it was my intention that we create a pool of activities that can be used by anyone in our department (there are 9 instruction librarians currently in our department). We will maintain this pool and continue to add next semester with our new interns and GTAs. I think it will be great for them, during their job searches, to be able to say that they contributed to a departmental instructional activity repository, and it is going to be quite useful for our department as well, as we seek to serve our 6400 new freshmen by providing them interesting and informative experiences at the library!

First Solo Teaching Session

At first I was a bit worried about the fact that I had to do two long back-to-back sessions, but I figured that however my first session went, that experience would help me in my second session. And that was basically how it went. I wasn’t that pleased with my first session. I went too quickly, forgot some key points, and couldn’t seem to get them involved in any sort of discussion. That’s on me to some extent; I think I kind of expect them to be non-responsive, so I ask a question, wait for a few seconds, and then answer the question myself. Sara’s pretty good at persuading them to be involved – I’m not, at this point. There was also a computer issue at the end of my lecture that didn’t really help things.

Time was an issue for me in the first session (it was a one hour and fifteen minute session and I wanted to go for at least fifty minutes but only went around forty minutes), and I had similar problems with the second session (it went almost fifty minutes, better but not exactly what I was looking for). Beyond that, I think the second session went a lot better. I would still do some things differently if I had the chance, but it definitely was better. I feel like I started the second session off much better than I did the first. I was moving around, wasn’t stuck to the podium, asking more questions (even getting a few responses), and even though the first session didn’t go that well, just the fact that I had done it made the second one easier.

I was a bit bothered by how quick I was moving through each part of the session. Like I said, the start of the second class seemed much better to me; I was more relaxed, there was more of a conversation, and yet when I went back to the podium I noticed that we had only talked for like five minutes, when it had seemed much longer. Just looking at the clock at that point threw me off a bit for a few minutes as I moved into the keyword section of the lecture. Keywords and mind-mapping to me was the most problematic of both of my classes. I don’t feel like I explain that well, except for the part where I show how “asking a question” works on Google but doesn’t work on scout. Also, the keyword game didn’t work either time, and that’s probably on me to some extent as I probably didn’t make it competitive enough; it definitely worked for Louise.

I did think my Boolean part worked, especially the second time. I didn’t use a game, but just showed them how to use it in Google (which they’re more familiar with), and I think it worked reasonably well the first time and really well the second time (there was even a little discussion about it). Scout training was about the same both times. It was ok, I went over it, hit the high points, and asked if they understood, and while they were fairly unresponsive, my impression (especially when I helped them in their individual searches) was that they did. The only thing I think I really forgot the first time was to show them how to limit a search to newspapers and magazine articles, but I didn’t forget that the second time.

Then we went to the part where they search on their own, and even though I wasn’t very good the first session, and they weren’t very responsive, the help time with the first session was actually better than the second session. They seemed more motivated to find their sources and really seemed to want my help. When I co-taught with Nancy and Sara I’d just wander around and ask people if they needed help and ended up not helping many of them. This time instead of asking them if they needed help, I asked them what their questions were (it was helpful that the professor had them come in with a topic) and went on to help them. The first session I had conversations with pretty much everyone about what their topic was and how to search for it. The second session wasn’t bad in that sense; I was able to help almost everyone, but there were a few students who just weren’t interested.

Reflection on “What First-Year Students Know About Information Research”

Kate Manuel, “What do First-Year Students Know About Information Research? And What Can we Teach Them?”

This article challenged some of the assumptions about what freshmen students know about information literacy and how successful information literacy instruction can be. The basic assumptions about freshmen and information literacy is that they generally don’t know a great deal; they use unsophisticated searching techniques, follow the “principle of least effort,” and are likely to do research on the web and accept their findings uncritically. This study of a freshmen information literacy instruction class found that students know a bit more about searching than they are generally given credit for, but also argued that information literacy instruction was not as successful (at least in this case) as one might hope.

This article led me to thinking about what exactly our students seem to “know” going into their first sessions. Obviously this isn’t a complete picture as I’ve only observed and co-taught some sessions, but it seems like whenever students are asked why we use quotation marks someone always seems to know the answer. How many of them actually know why is a different story – some might have known but didn’t speak up, or maybe the only student who understood was the one who answered (only between 2.7 and 3.8% of the students in this study initially stated that using quotation marks was a way of narrowing a search). It seems like Boolean operators are a bit more of a foreign concept to students though, which isn’t really surprising as quotation marks are often used on basic Google searches. It would be interesting if we could find out (through some kind of questionnaire) what a certain class knows about information literacy beforehand, but that may not be really feasible.

The main thing I took from this article is that freshmen may not be the stereotypically lazy, uninformed searchers that they are portrayed as. The only real problem I had with this article is that I didn’t really know what they had taught the students during the instruction sessions. The students only showed a slightly better understanding of advanced searches based on the pre and post-tests, but we don’t really know how much time the instructors spent discussing advanced searches (we don’t really go into that for the most part). I also thought some of the gains shown in the post-test were a bit more significant than the authors apparently did (the use of quotation marks is one example).

Reflection on “Applying Active Learning Methods”

Katherine Strober Dabbour, “Applying Active Learning Methods to the Design of Library Instruction for a Freshman Seminar.”

We’ve obviously talked a good bit about active learning exercises and how they can be used in an information literacy instruction session, and this article went a bit more in-depth about how students respond to them. The author of this article conducted a survey of students attending information literacy sessions for “freshmen seminar” classes (which is different from what we are doing in that these students had no papers or assignments related to the sessions) that were predominantly based on active learning exercises. The survey found that students generally responded favorably to active learning (as opposed to textbook readings or, to some extent, classroom discussions).

Nothing about the article necessarily surprised me. I did think there were some issues with the methodology – specifically that there was no pre-test (although the author acknowledges that), and the fact that I think you always have to be kind of wary about student surveys, in that there’s always the chance that they’ll say what they think you want to hear (although the fact that they didn’t respond that favorably to the textbook readings helps the author’s case). But I do think students for the most part prefer active learning as opposed to passive learning, i.e. purely lecture-based learning, so it wasn’t surprising that the survey showed that they were most enthusiastic about those parts of the session. As for our classes, I think there has to be a mix of some lecture along with active learning exercises in order to get across as much information as possible, although even lecture parts of the sessions don’t have to be completely passive as we can try to get students involved in the discussion, even if they’re initially reluctant to answer questions.

Reflection on “Becoming Critically Reflective”

Reflection on “Becoming Critically Reflective.”

Stephen D. Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995.

This chapter discussed how to become more critically reflective and how being more critically reflective can change someone as a teacher. The author looked at four ways of becoming more critically reflective: reflecting on our “autobiographies” as teachers and learners; gathering input from students; discussions with colleagues; and reading theoretical literature on teaching and higher education. What struck me about this aspect of the reading were the limitations of each option. For example, it’s always difficult to examine your own practices because of your own assumptions and biases, students might be afraid to really say what they feel (and I would add that on teacher examinations students will often mail it in by choosing the median answer on each question, for example the teacher was “pretty good” or “good” on each topic), and when discussing teaching with other colleagues the author points out that we’ll often seek out like-minded colleagues. I think the author’s point to some extent is that because of these limitations it’s best to use a variety of methods in order to become more reflective.

The author also points out some of the consequences and advantages of being more critically reflective, some of which resonated more with me than others. For example, the author points out that more critically reflective teachers will be more likely to try to build a more “democratic” classroom experience, but I didn’t always see the connection. I think many teachers would like to build a more democratic classroom experience (we definitely don’t want to just be talking to a group of bored, unresponsive freshman English comp students), but I thought the author could have gone into the relationship between the two a bit more. What resonated the most to me was that more critically reflective teachers will be more likely to not see themselves as the finished product, so to speak. If you are constantly trying to examine yourself, your methods, assumptions, etc., then you will probably be more likely to evolve and grow as a teacher.