Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ask the Masses: Instruction Evaluation Tools

Anne Marie asks:

I am looking for examples of 2 evaluation tools (hopefully online & short):

1) students evaluate librarians' teaching (was the session effective in helping you with the project, how comfortable did you feel with the librarian, etc.)

2) teaching faculty evaluate librarians' teaching (did the session meet your needs, did the students' projects improve, etc.)

I'm happy to look at those from other institutions you may know of. Thanks!

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

Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Post: Structure, Value, and Meaning of Scholarly Journal Articles

iLOVE welcomes a guest post from Dan Chibnall, User Services and Instruction Design Librarian at Grand View University in Des Moines, IA.


Students making the transition from high school to college have quite a few things to learn when it comes to the research process. As librarians, we help make it easy for them by teaching information literacy skills throughout their educational career in college. We help them isolate problems, access the best information available, evaluate what they find, learn how to use it in a project, and do it all ethically and legally.

But we all know it's simply not that easy. There are many challenges that we face as instructors, some of which are simply because we take many tasks for granted. For example, we all know how to read a scholarly article and understand the basics of it so we can summarize it or analyze it. However, our students are highly likely to possess very few skills in this area. That's why if we are ever going to get students to use more scholarly articles in their research, we first have to teach them how to read them.

In my class, Computer & Information Literacy, we do an activity that helps the students understand the structure, value, and meaning of scholarly journal articles. I've been using this activity for only a couple of semesters now, so I'm still tweaking it and making it better, but in this blog post I want to share with you the nuts and bolts of how it works.

I usually begin the lesson with a short, concise lecture on the differences between original research and literature reviews. At this point the students are already familiar with what scholarly journals are and have accessed them at least once via an electronic database. I touch on key terms to look for and show differences in the structure between original research and review. Then we do a brief activity where students look at some pre-selected articles (I save them in MyEBSCO or just create a list of hyperlinks) and have them try to identify if they are original or review.

Then we begin the larger activity. I pre-select one article before I come to class. The key to making this activity work is to break the article up into sections: discussion/conclusion, introduction, results, and methods. I get the students to form four groups based on the sections of the article. For example, each member of the Methods Group would receive just the methods section of the article. For the next 10 minutes or so, each group has to work together to figure out what their section is talking about.

During those 10 minutes, I give the students a series of questions that they have to try and answer. Every group receives the same questions even though they are reading different sections of the same article. The questions are:

  • What is the hypothesis?
  • What do I hope to learn from this?
  • What is the conclusion the authors come up with?
  • Why was this study performed?
  • What do the data and results look like?
  • How did they acquire their data? What methods?
  • What are some of the articles in the reference list that would be helpful researching this topic further?

The key here is that they won't be able to fully answer all the questions without the next step in the process. After the students have read through their section, discussed it amongst the group, and tried to answer the questions, I then assemble them back into one big group. In the big group, each section group takes a turn going through what they discovered and learned. It works best if you have them go in this order: discussion/conclusion, introduction, results, methods. It's kind of a "working backwards" method of understanding the article. After they have all spoken, the students have a much better idea of how the study was put together and what it all means.

When it/s all over, I give the students some tips on reading articles in the future: mine the reference pages for helpful articles, use highlighters in different colors (one color for questions, one for connecting ideas), grab your citation info at the beginning, etc.

It's a fun activity and the students enjoy it because they get to be involved in building something together. Plus, they don't have to read the entire article, just a piece of it.

Do you have a similar activity? Let me know how you teach this aspect of information literacy by responding in the comments below.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How to design instruction: break it down

As some of you may know or remember, I have very little training in instructional pedagogy, but I'm a liberal arts grad who had some amazingly inventive teachers who has since surrounded herself with some really smart friends. That said, one of my favorite parts of my job is brainstorming and planning instruction whether that be my own, or helping other professors develop research (or non-library) assignments.

Last week I found myself helping a friend adapt college-level content about sports marketing to make it appropriate for 1st graders attending a college for kids program on campus. At first I was excited about the challenge, but quickly realized that while I knew how to build creative assignments for college students, first graders were a bit out of my league!

So I turn to one of those really smart friends of mine who works with kids that age. Her suggestion? Break it down to its component parts and relate those to something they already know, or are familiar with and make it active. As soon as she told me that, I felt a bit like I'd been hit with a brick. Obviously that's what you do. That's what I do to attack an assignment for my college students. I'd been doing that without framing it that way, but that was the basic progression. Take the goal of the project and the method to getting there. Break it down into manageable steps, ideas, processes, concepts, etc. Basically find its component parts, whatever form that may take. And then you relate it to what they've done or known before. You want to teach them about subject headings and authority control? Relate it to Facebook photo tagging. Annotating a text? That's a bit like live tweeting in the book. Find something that makes sense to them and build on that prior knowledge. And then?? Then you make it active. You teach the concepts or theories or ideas or whatever, and then you let them practice it. You have them apply it. Have them put it to use right away.

So when we left our heroes, they were grappling with sports marketing for kids. My friend brought in the content broken down with some idea of how to make it a project. I added a bit of the active appeal and the link to the familiar. And suddenly we've got a week long project of creating a team, pieces of marketing plans including price structure and promotion, all wrapped up in a book to take home to their parents. Ta da! But that wasn't really the ta da moment.

That moment? It came later. When the faculty member realized he could use this same project with his college students. We built it to be active for 7 year old because that is how you make things "fun" and also how you cope with 7 year olds when you don't make a habit of dealing with them on a regular basis. :) But the active piece with college students? That is that the chance to do some "real world" application. That's the buy in. It's where the rubber meets the road. You teach them the theory and then they put it to use, reinforcing it right away.

And my takeaway from this endeavor? That translating process can go either way. I'm not usually in the habit of building things for little kids, but I love the idea of break it down to component parts, relate to what they know, and make it active. We're all kids at heart, right? If it works for them, why not for us?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ask The Masses: Credit Instruction

Julius Asks:

Does anyone else have a credit library course? I'm very interested in learning how many of these courses each librarian is able to teach. We've been discussing how many credit courses are too many for a librarian. I have dreams of growing my program to have several 8-week, 1-credit courses each term. The terms are 16 weeks, so I should be able to squeeze them into the schedule.

Alternatively, how many one-shots does each librarian teach at your school?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Credit, Embedded or One-Shot?

One of my favorite topics to write about in library school was information literacy. I used to love talking about the various intricacies of why credit library instruction was far superior to that of one-shots. At the time, I was a graduate teaching assistant and helped teach a 4-4-3 load of an undergraduate, three-credit course for one academic year. That experience helped shaped how I view a librarian's teaching, student learning and academic culture. 

For-Credit Instruction
The for-credit course I helped teach was a full university course. It was 16-weeks, involved long assignments and multiple choice quizzes, but not a paper. The students were assigned a proper grade on the A-F scale, corresponding to their % of points earned. Each section had about 30-students, with one section being specifically for student-athletes. (More on the student-athletes in a later post.) 

It was required by the Mass Communication and Communications departments. That tended to drive decent enrollment numbers, as well as giving them vital skills for their majors. Despite being required by each major, there was no direct collaboration between the Library and Information Science professor and other departments. I tended to view this as a stake for academic freedom and a full acceptance of the librarian as a professor. 

The general outline for the course was as follows: 
Orientation / Learning Management System
The Research Process
Critical Thinking Part 1
Critical Thinking Part 2
Citing Information Sources Part 1
Citing Information Sources Part 2
The Internet, Virtual Libraries and Directories
Search Engines: General
Search Engines: Google, Bing and Wolfram/Alpha
Library Classification Systems and Catalogs
Periodical Databases Part 1
Periodical Databases Part 2
Specialized Web Databases
Ethics in Information and Copyright
Finals Week

I should also note this course was delivered online for two of the four sections, each semester. The last time I helped run the course was in 2008. 

That's how I was taught to teach information literacy. 

Fast Forward to Being Tasked with Teaching Information Literacy on my Own
When I made my way to Iowa, I was tasked with teaching information literacy. Up to that point, my institution had no formal instruction program. (Truthfully, we still don't.) There was a single dreaded one-shot in our freshmen experience course, but nothing beyond that. One-shots were given once the faculty member requested a librarian.  

At the time of my appointment, there was some excitement about the library. My colleagues had just finished an iPad pilot, which was successful. I had started off meeting with faculty to determine how best to integrate information literacy in their courses. I was lucky and managed to have 16 one-shots in my first term.

First Experiment with For-Credit Instruction
Some of my faculty colleagues had been open to discussing a for-credit library course. They encouraged me to use J-Term to experiment and see if it would go through. My proposed course was approved by the faculty senate in October and would be on the books in J-Term. For the rest of my first semester, I worked to drill down that 3-credit, 16-week course mentioned above into a 1-credit, 2 week course. I managed to do it, but poorly. 

The outline for the new course was as follows: 
Orientation / Library Website
Research Process, Research Question Development 
Introduction to Information, Information Timeline, Scholarly Communication
Critical Thinking, Source Evaluation
Advanced Searching, Keywords, Subjects
Sources on the Open Web, Government Data, Search Engines
Working Session -- Students needed to complete an information hunt
Periodical Databases
Citing Information Sources
Working Session -- Students worked on citations in class
Gross format of APA, Numbers, Headings
Annotated Bibliography 
Working Session -- Students worked on Annotated Bibliographies in class
Ethics in Information 

The first term two students enrolled. I was able to still run the course, since it was an
experiment for the library. From the evaluations, the students seemed to enjoy the
course, but felt there should have been a paper. Their comments also said it felt
disjointed from their other courses. I’d have to agree. 

A New Approach 
The following Spring term, I was approached by an education faculty member. She heard about my J-Term course and that I was able to teach APA style.  When she expressed desire for me to come into her course, I asked if we could try this embedded librarianship thing I heard about. It seemed like a nice meeting between for-credit and one-shot instruction. She agreed and gave me 5, 50-minute sessions in her course. I would be able to give assignments, which would count for ten-points on their paper. 

That outline was as follows: 
Research Questions / Keyword Development
Sources on the web, government data, Periodical Databases
Evaluation of sources
APA Style
APA Paper formatting 

This, we quickly learned was too short of a time frame to cover all that material in-depth.  Today, it has grown into 8-sessions, with a separate syllabus, but still part of the course. 

The more refined outline is as follows:
Research Question Development 
Searching for Information
Web Sources 
Academic Databases 
Evaluation of information 
APA Citations
APA paper formatting & working session 
APA formatting working session 

From student feedback, the students seem to love that partnership. Anecdotally from the faculty, their grades on their papers have improved, more sources are being consulted and cited properly. This is a partnership we both feel has worked very well. 

Another J-Term
Come this last J-Term, I learned my one-credit course was on the schedule and had an enrollment of over 12 students. (Great enrollment for a J-Term course at my institution, especially considering it is not a requirement.) When I ran that course, I used the same 8-sessions outline I used in the education embedded sessions and included more time to work in class. I also required a 5-page paper, with at least 7 sources. As the instructor, I feel the students learned a great deal. The grades had a normal distribution (okay, may skewed towards the left a little bit) and were as expected.

Finally a One-Credit Course that Worked
This last spring, I was asked to work with a nursing faculty to reconceptualize her four-credit introductory to the BSN program course. The course ran 8-weeks and I would have one-credit's worth of time to teach them the same material I was teaching in the education collaboration. There was one catch, it was fully online and I could not require synchronous meetings. 

I ended up recording my lectures for the course and posted them in the LMS. I also posted them to our website. You can check them out here:

A few days ago, I found out the nursing faculty submitted my syllabus and codified the course into the nursing curriculum. 

Where to Go From Here?
So I’ve had some successes and failures with instruction in my first two years. I count my first experience with for-credit instruction to be one of my first year’s biggest failures. However, it did turn into a great success, with the nursing department taking the bones of the course and using it in their curriculum. My hope for the future is to have one more department sign on to either an embedded series or 1-credit course. From there, I feel I can make the case to require this 1-credit course for more, if not all, majors. 

Questions for You

So, you, kind iLove reader, does your school have for-credit instruction?  Do you like doing embedded sessions? How about one-shots?