Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My First Trip to the Library to Do Research Over Spring Break

Did any of your students come in over spring break and do this?

Find more fun gifs from Music Theory Augmented at http://musictheoryaugmented.tumblr.com/ 

Selling Public Speaking

Our library instruction program has a relationship with several first-year and general education courses.  Two of these courses are required in the first year (and are also required to schedule a library instruction session), and the other two are taken in either the first or second year, and may or may not visit the Library.  One of the latter of these courses is Public Speaking, a class that for one reason or another I have had difficulty connecting with.  For one thing, the course is often taught by adjunct professors whom I may not have had an opportunity to meet in person.  But if I'm honest with myself, a lot of my inability to connect in the past has occurred once I actually succeeded in getting the class into the Library.  Since for some students this is the third time they will have seen me in a year, it becomes difficult to convince them that no, this is not the same thing you learned last week and last semester, when maybe, just a little bit, it is.

Yes, mon petit choux: I want to teach you how to figure out what you need to know, how to find sources in a database, how to evaluate the sources you find, and how to use and cite them.  But I swear!  These are different databases, with different cool features, and I know you're still only using Google, and...
What it came down to was this: I needed to sell my students on these resources.  But this is Public Speaking—they're supposed to be learning the art of persuasion, right?  They should be selling these resources to me!  For this, I needed some ties.

Vintage, school spirit, and classic black, Goodwill Industries didn't let me down.  Armed with this new-to-me arsenal of clip-on polyester persuasion, I set out to reframe a tired lesson plan.  Instead of running through the typical motions of asking students to write out a research question from which we would generate keywords and synonyms, I decided to turn this into a public speaking opportunity.  I asked for a volunteer who 1) Knew their topic, and 2) Would be okay with speaking in front of the class.  I invited this eager volunteer to come stand behind the podium and (if she wished) wear a tie.  [Back-up no-volunteer plan B: I would volunteer.]  I explained that the volunteer was holding a press conference, and would be fielding questions from the press corps (the rest of the class) about her topic: ________.

On each of the students' handouts was a list of questions to get them started, but for the most part, they asked good questions that got at the heart of the topic, asking follow-up questions to help clarify, and tough questions the volunteer had not thought about.  As the class fired off their inquiries and the volunteer answered what she knew about the topic, I wrote keywords I picked up from their conversation on the whiteboard at the front of the room.  At the end of this session, I explained to the class that this was a way of helping the volunteer to figure out what she already knew, and to focus in on what she needed to know about her topic.  The keywords on the board were simply the most important descriptor words they had mentioned.  I then asked all of the students to pair up and repeat the process with each other, with the questioner writing down keywords on the handout.  NOTE: Be sure to tell students to switch handouts before this activity, so that the keywords are written on the correct piece of paper!

For my second act, I tried a variation on a usually-successful activity.  In the past, we had split students up into small groups and asked them to peer-teach the rest of the class how to use one of four new databases (one database per group).  For this class, I added a subtle twist and stuck to three databases instead of four to avoid presentation fatigue.  Each group was now a marketing group and was charged with the task of pitching the database to the rest of the class (their focus group).  The group presenting needed to show and tell us:
  1. How to find an article/resource using this database (student 1)
  2. What kind of information this database is good for finding (all)
  3. Cool features of the database (one per each of the remaining students)
 And they needed to keep it interesting!  Remember, I told them, you're trying to sell this to us!  I encouraged them to put on the ties to make it legit, and at the end of their pitch, I showed my approval by saying, I would totally use that database!  Perhaps the most encouraging part of this revision was the conversations I overheard as the 'marketing groups' prepared their pitches: This is SO cool!  I had no idea this existed!  This is so helpful!  Discovering the features on their own, with a goal and a time limit, the students found the features that they thought were most relevant to their needs (I almost always learn something new about a database in these classes).  And best of all, we weren't all falling asleep by the end of the last group's presentation.

Essentially, it's new clothes on an old horse, but it worked: I didn't get a single accusation of self-plagiarism.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ask the Masses: Info Lit Instruction Schedules

Anne Marie asks:

I'm wondering how, at the program level, various institutions organize library instruction schedules. Currently we have a master spreadsheet with all library instruction sessions listed (day, date, time, course #, section #, instructor, librarian, location, assistants if any, and short notes/content).

This is replicated, for sessions held in the library instruction computer lab, in Outlook, with appointments sent to assigned librarians for those sessions (we meet periodically to divvy out all the Core/gen ed sessions & librarians take others in their liaison areas). We need to be able to see all sessions in one place (spreadsheet) as well as manage the room we administer (Outlook room calendar).

We have done it this way for a long time as the program has grown significantly, with now about 500 sessions per year, and I'm wondering if this is still the best way. Any ideas for improving and perhaps streamlining our process?

Share your answers/observations/experiences in the comments section below!

Monday, March 18, 2013

21st Century Ways to Assign Narratives - Faculty Development

Part of my position is to provide faculty instruction sessions in addition to one-shots and embedded class work with students. This is something I really enjoy because it 1) helps me reach out to faculty beyond those who already regularly utilize library services, 2) allows me to collaborate with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) here on campus which not only helps me develop as an instructor, it also helps me better understand the needs of the teaching faculty, and I get to hang out with the awesome CETL folks (some of the coolest people on campus), and 3) allows me to “sneak in the vegetables,” so to speak, with the faculty to help them refocus paper & project requirements, and give them ideas of how to better utilize the library resources and to fold in more information literacy components into their assignments and instruction.

This a week ago this past Saturday we had an hour-and-a-half long session discussing 21st century narratives.  We began with a Think-Pair-Share activity which kicked off a great discussion of why faculty assign traditional narratives/research papers, what they require for those papers (i.e. page numbers, citation styles, numbers and types of sources, restricting sources to those written by a nurse, etc.), how the learning objectives are connected to these requirements (or how they’re not connected), and how they assess the papers. We then shifted our thinking to focus on the learning objectives to see how they could be met with an alternate project that isn’t a traditional paper. I would have liked to have seen more of a connection (or a-ha moments) between what professors require of students and the learning objectives met from requiring those things. I think sometimes it can be easy for faculty to attach certain requirements to a paper or project and not connect those to learning objectives: requirements for requirements’ sake instead of making the requirements support learning objectives. During the discussion, attendees were great about sharing what they do and brainstorming new possibilities.

I highlighted alternatives to the traditional paper, starting with the more traditional and then moving to the less familiar options. We discussed:
  • Portfolios (traditional and electronic)
  • Poster Presentations
  • Mini-Conferences
  • Digital Storytelling Videos
  • Infographics
I was very intentional with mentioning things the instructors would have to consider before changing their assignments. Oftentimes people might think “hey that sounds neat--let’s try it” and not realize the shift to a new medium requires them to know what skills are needed and how to approach presenting the content from a new perspective. The considerations I emphasized were:
  • Establish objectives 
  • Consider type(s) of info. students will use
  • Research, visual, personal experience, statistics?
  • How can that information be shared
  • Are you proficient with the technology the students will be using?
That last bullet point may not necessarily be the most important in terms of educational objectives, but if the faculty member doesn’t have the skills to teach their students how to use the technology or answer student questions, it makes it hard for the professor to understand just what types of things can be done with the technology & what type of a time commitment it will be for students to complete their projects. This point allows instructors to establish reasonable expectations for their students’ work.

Below you will find the presentation slides. For each of the mediums there are examples, some guideline rubrics or tutorials, and links to tech tools and other resources. Again, I was really impressed with the level of engagement of those who attended; they were excited to learn new ways to have their students demonstrate knowledge. I even had one faculty member find me on LinkedIn--in her message she said she was having fun exploring the technology tools and even began making her own website using the resources I provided!

What are some ways you encourage faculty to think outside the box to find alternatives to the traditional paper?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ask the Masses: Print Resources

Nicole asks: 

How do you handle instructors who require students to have at least 1/3 of their sources not from any electronic source - so no ebooks, even if the text is the same as a print book in the library? This drives me crazy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Keywords: Strategies, tips and tricks

One of these days the field will realize that jargon terms our students don't understand just add one more layer of haze we have to dig through to simply get to the student. But until that day we must soldier on with what we have.

Let's talk about one of my favorite library jargon terms: keywords. Now it's a simple enough concept to get across to students, but getting them to develop a list or recognize that there is more than just the word they list as a topic is a totally different story.

Over the past few years I've developed a few different strategies to get students to engage with the idea of keywords. My favorite has to be playing Keyword Taboo. You can play this game with or without technology. I like to play it with technology to add that extra level of playfulness. I present the students with a research topic: college students and alcohol. I use this in particular because there are many options for keywords and it is also totally of interest to students. After I give them the topic I have them come up with keywords for that topic. The catch? Like the game Taboo, they can't use the words "college," "student," or "alcohol." I don't give them any other direction than that. I usually mediate this through Poll Everywhere using a free-text response option instead of the pre-determined polls. I have the students pull out their cell phones (or use the computers in front of them) to send in responses. Then as they show up live on the PPT slide or screen, I discuss what they come up with. Because of the nature of the topic, the students are forced to narrow the topic. I usually see terms like "beer," "binge drinking," "underage," "liquor," and "teenagers" pretty quickly. I point out how each of those terms narrows my topic in some way. And we talk about how the subsets of teenagers and underage don't necessarily hit all college students. Inevitably someone posts something they find funny or inappropriate, but usually only after the first round of terms come in. I have a pretty good idea of terms and ideas that I think might work so when I don't see those come up, I try and get the students to navigate themselves to them somehow. Undergraduate(s) is the one missed most often. This activity takes a little time, but it really helps the students understand that keywords are NOT just the words in the topic. That you can and should think outside the immediate phrases in front of your eyes. It also hits home the point that you need to narrow your research topic considerably for it to be really successful for those short papers.

Another strategy I like to use is the "Think, Pair, Share." This works well when students already have individual topics picked for their project. I have the student brainstorm as many keywords as possible for their topic/research question/theme and write them down. Then I have them turn to the person next to them, explain and describe their topic and then have their partner come up with a few more keywords. Usually the partner cane come up with the few extra words they need to get them over the 10 keyword bar I set. Partnering them is usually enough to allow students to recognize there is more than one way to describe a topic, and that sometimes finding someone slightly removed from the topic can help broaden their horizons.

Every once in a while I end up with a class where everyone in the class is researching the same topic. Or similar topics. Instead of playing Taboo with those classes I've started going around the room and creating a class keyword list. Each student is required to come up with one keyword. The first 5 or 6 are easy. Then the students start trying to opt out. I keep pushing for synonyms and remind the students all they have to do is come up with one word. That's not so hard. So far I've just gone around the room back to front. But next time I do this, I think I'll have everyone stand up and when they say one they get to sit down. Level the playing field a bit. And when push comes to shove toward the end, I usually let the rest of the class help bail out those last few students. But at the end, we've got a nice long list of keywords. We've talked about synonyms, combining terms, and searching for phrases. For this last class I just took a picture of the whiteboard where I wrote them all and posted it on the course LibGuide so students could use the list to actually search later.

What do you do to get students to really engage with the idea of keywords?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How to Read a Scholarly Article

I recently received a request from a faculty member: We're finding that some of our students are having a hard time figuring out how to read a journal article. Do you have a resource you could share?

While at the time I didn't have anything on hand, I had been mulling over this topic for a while.  Reading scholarly articles is not a skill that comes naturally.  In fact, very little of a traditional high school education prepares a college freshman for the piecemeal way a skilled reader tackles a scientific paper.  But as I tell my students (tip o' the hat, Becky Canovan!), research articles are not romance novels—you don't read them beginning to end.

How, then, to teach students the proper way to wade into the world of literature reviews and methodologies and discussions?  North Carolina State University has a pretty nifty online tutorial called "Anatomy of a Scholarly Article," which I used as inspiration.  I liked the way they broke the article down into its component parts, and discussed the visual and contextual clues to use when deciding what's what in the maze of headings, statistics, and citations.  I also really appreciated that they found a good way to move the focus from the content of the article to the structure of the article.  It would be nearly impossible (or at least straining) to read "A Cognitive Model for the Representation and Acquisition of Verb Selectional Preferences," simply because the font is so small.  However, I was going to be working with these upper-level research methods students for fifty minutes, and it was hard to envision an interactive class session using only this online tool.  So, I did what I usually do: I went analog.

As you'll see below, I made a fake journal article, with fake publication information, fake authors, a fake abstract, and a fake publisher (the Library!).  And with a little help from my friend, the Lorem Ipsum generator, I was able to create fake content that wouldn't distract from the structure of the article. 

I then added headings (methodology, discussion, conclusion), parenthetical citations in the literature review section, a table and a figure, and a bibliography.  Finally, I labeled each part I wanted students to be able to recognize with a number 1-13.

In class, I broke students into small groups and handed each group two real article print-outs with the corresponding database citation/abstract stapled on top (since this is often what students see first when searching).  I asked the groups to decide which articles they could use for their research (assuming they were researching that topic), and which articles were probably not scholarly enough, and had them explain their decision to the rest of the class based on what they saw.  This got them tuned into the physical cues of an article and prepared them for the next step.

I then passed out the fake scholarly article I had made, and asked them as small groups to tell me which 3-4 of the numbered features were most important when deciding whether the article was scholarly.  The groups' responses varied slightly, but mostly focused on the authors, the authors' credentials, the bibliography, and the publication information.  Then I asked the small groups to decide which of the numbered features were most important in understanding the article.  Again, responses varied slightly, but most focused on the abstract, the introduction, the methodology, and the discussion/conclusion.  I also made sure to ask students what the literature review section was (it was numbered but not labeled), and how it could be useful to them.  Finally, we chatted about the best strategies for reading a scholarly article for understanding (I made sure to include the professor in this conversation), noting the benefits of different approaches.

What I observed was that these students gained a much more nuanced and context-based understanding of the structure of a research article, and I suspect they ultimately understood the concept much better than they would have had I merely pointed out the different features and sections on the screen.  Their small-group conversations were rich, and the process of reaching a consensus pushed them to reason with each other in choosing which sections of the article to focus on.  Granted, I've only tried this activity once and with a stellar group of students, but I will definitely be pulling this trick out of my hat again.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Labels, Assigning

We keep an electric stapler and an electric pencil sharpener on our checkout desk. Because of some confusion in the past, we labeled the stapler. STAPLER, it says. Even so, we often have to point it out to people and give them directions on how to use it.
One day while my back was turned, I heard someone fumbling at the stapler. “Just put it straight in,” I offered.
“What?” a girl asked, sounding very confused.
I turned and realized that she was trying to sharpen her pencil. In the stapler. The stapler labeled STAPLER.
I showed her where the pencil sharpener was, which was approximately 3 inches to her right. After she left I made a label for it, too.