Category Archives: Teaching

Intentional teaching, intentional learning: Toward threshold concepts through reflective practice

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jennifer Jarson, Information Literacy and Assessment Librarian at Muhlenberg College.

This fall marked the start of my tenth academic year as a librarian. It startles me, to say the least, to count up the years and arrive at (almost) ten. Having spent the majority of my career so far at a small college, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a wide variety of projects. As a public services librarian, though, my attention has most frequently been directed to reference, instruction, and all things information literacy. It’s no surprise that, six-ish weeks into the semester, information literacy instruction is on my agenda and my mind.

Just the other week, a faculty member and I were chatting about our past versus present selves in the classroom. A critical eye back over the years dredges up some pretty squirm-worthy memories. Because they were performed in front of an audience of students and faculty, these mis-steps are especially embarrassing to bring to mind. I cringe to recall, for example, some excruciating moments in early years in which I droned on about the minutiae of search strategies, students’ eyes glazing over, drool practically trickling down their chins. I’m grateful, then, to look back and also recognize successes and, more importantly, evolution in my teaching. Perhaps it’s just those most awkward and agonizing of moments that best surface the need for change and fuel experimentation with alternate approaches.

For many, a protocol of reflection and experimentation, of trial and error, seems a natural drive. Yet demands on our time and attention might cause us to repeat an ineffective session because we don’t have the time to examine its inadequacies and restructure. Our many competing obligations might prevent us from effecting the more wholesale change we sometimes desire. In an effort to promote the “intentionality” of my reflection and experimentation, as Booth (2011) might say, and to pay it more of the attention it deserves, I’ve been compelling myself to make space for it, adding it to my to-do lists, to my annual goals. In years past, themes of my reflection-for-self-improvement-in-the-classroom regimen have included, for example, scaffolding skills to slow the pace adequately for students’ development and enhancing student engagement through more constructive (and constructivist) in-class activities. This intentional reflection is giving me the perspective and head space to uncover my assumptions and shortcomings and to motivate improvement, rather than revisit the same practice again and again for no good reason.

I don’t mean to claim that I’m reinventing any library instruction wheels. Far from it. But I do hope I’m oiling its sometimes rusty squeak for a smoother, more productive and engaging ride that takes us all (student, faculty, and librarian alike) a little further down the pike. As are you, I don’t doubt. How I will feel in another ten years when I look back on yesterday’s class or today’s blog post, even, is up for grabs. But on we march. And thank goodness for this drive forward, for the chance to reflect, learn from these shortcomings, and try again. Moment to moment, class to class, semester to semester. Small or large, these steps trend toward progress.

As I reflect on my practice in this particular year, then, I think that what I’m trying to teach—and where I’m still coming up short—is the practice of reflection. Too often, I know I have focused on the how at the expense of the why. I long ago moved beyond the point-and-click method of library instruction. Yet despite my efforts thus far to model, scaffold, and construct our way toward information literate, a connecting piece seems to be still sometimes missing. When I look back now to find my in-class nods to the what for, I better recognize their nuance and how hard it must have been for inexperienced students to catch them, decode them. While my modeling and scaffolding certainly have had the why at their core, many students haven’t had the frame of reference to recognize its presence. I want to uncover for students the habits of mind—the “knowledge practices” and “dispositions,” so to speak—of information literacy, not just the clickpaths to mimic it.

So this year I’m looking to add reflective, metacognitive moments to help expose rationales, purposes, and processes for students. With the metacognitive mindset made visible, I hope students will develop a more flexible information literacy lens to apply to their future paths. I think this is a strength of the new (draft) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: highlighting the reflective practice and metacognitive mettle at the core of information literacy. Metacognitive awareness is, no surprise to us, inherent in information literacy skills and development; the new draft framework helps us to enhance its prominence.

Now to the business of actually doing this. How, you might ask? Good question. I wish I had more answers. So far I’m trying to integrate more direct discussion of process and purpose into my classes. I’m trying to lay bare for students the practice, reflection, and progression that complicates this work, but also connects the gaps, that brings them closer to crossing the threshold. And I’m trying to work with faculty to extend this work beyond the limitations of single, isolated library sessions. I see some successes so far, but it feels more than a little premature to claim I’ve conquered such a problem. By their nature, these concepts and this work are complex and protracted. For now, I am (mostly) satisfied to be working on it.

I feel I can’t so much as stick a toe into these waters without at least a nod to their expansiveness. I imagine you recognize, too, the shared roles of librarians and faculty in this kind of information literacy instruction. These are not topics and goals isolated to a one-shot instruction session. This is the work of not one class, but many. This is the work not only of librarians, but of faculty, too. We work to establish the library as a leader in information literacy on our campuses, but it’s also our aim to recognize the extensive information literacy work that takes place outside the library-instruction-specific classroom. Our ambitions to promote shared faculty and librarian understanding of information literacy, common investment in students’ learning, and opportunities for collaboration and curricular development are ever more relevant.

As I recognize the role of intentional reflection in my own development, then, I’m struck to see its place of primacy in my teaching goals, as well. I might typically brush this aside as a self-apparent truth requiring no further deliberation. In my reflection-oriented state, though, I’m more inclined to pause for a moment and consider the parallels of these themes in information literacy teaching and in information literacy learning. With my ongoing push (some days it’s a bit more like a shove) into an intentionally reflective practice, I’m aiming to improve student learning as a more effective, responsive, and flexible instructor. I’m simultaneously aiming for a congruent push toward a reflective and metacognitive student mentality to tip their scales toward greater engagement and transformation. As Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2011) wrote, it’s these “big ideas that make information science exciting and worth learning about.”

What about you? What are you uncovering and developing in your pedagogy? What roles have reflection, metacognition, and threshold concepts played in your instructional evolution? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

If At First You Don’t Assess, Try, Try Again

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Katelyn Tucker & Alyssa Archer, Instruction Librarians at Radford University.

Instruction librarians are always looking for new & flashy ways to engage our students in the classroom. New teaching methods are exciting, but how do we know if they’re working? Here at Radford University, we’ve been flipping and using games for one-shot instruction sessions for a while, and our Assessment Librarian wasn’t going to accept anecdotal evidence of success any longer. We decided that the best way to see if our flipped and gamified lessons were accomplishing our goals was to evaluate the students’ completed assignments. We tried to think of every possible issue in designing the study. Our results, however, had issues that could have been prevented in hindsight. We want you to learn from our mistakes so you are not doomed to repeat them.

Our process

Identifying classes to include in this assessment of flipped versus gamified lessons was a no-brainer for us. A cohort of four sections of the same course that use identical assignment descriptions, assignment sheets, and grading rubrics meant that we had an optimal sample population. All students in the four sections created annotated bibliographies based on these same syllabi and assignment instructions. We randomly assigned two classes to receive flipped information literacy instruction and two to play a library game. After final grades had been submitted for the semester, the teaching faculty members of each section stripped identifying information from their students’ annotated bibliographies and sent them to us. We assigned each bibliography a number and then assigned two librarian coders to each paper. We felt confident that we had a failsafe study design.

Using a basic rubric (see image below, click to enlarge), librarians coded each bibliography for three outcomes using a binary scale. Since our curriculum lists APA documentation style, scholarly source evaluation, and search strategy as outcomes for the program, we coded for competency in these 3 areas. This process took about two months to complete, as coding student work is a time-consuming process.

assessmentchart

The challenges

After two librarians independently coded each bibliography, our assessment librarian ran inter-rater reliability statistics, and… we failed. We had previously used rubrics to code annotated bibliographies for another assessment project, so we didn’t spend any time explaining the process with our experienced coders. As we only hit around 30% agreement between coders, it is obvious that we should have done a better job with training.

Because we had such low agreement between coders, we weren’t confident in our success with each outcome. When we compared the flipped sections to the gamified ones, we didn’t find any significant differences in any of our outcomes. Students who played the game did just as well as those who were part of the flipped sections. However, our low inter-rater reliability threw a wrench in those results.

What we’ve learned

We came to understand the importance of norming, discussing among coders what the rubric means, and incorporating meaningful conversations on how to interpret assessment data into the norming process. Our inter-rater reliability issues could have been avoided with detailed training and discussion. Even though we thought we were safe on this project, because of earlier coding projects, the length of time between assessments created some large inconsistencies.

We haven’t given up on norming: including multiple coders may be time-intensive, but when done well, gives our team confidence in the results. The same applies to qualitative methodologies. As a side part of this project, one librarian looked at research narratives written by some participants, and decided to bravely go it alone on coding the students’ text using Dedoose. While it was an interesting experiment, the key point learned was to bring in more coders! While qualitative software can help identify patterns, it’s nothing compared to a partner looking at the same data and discussing as a team.

We also still believe in assessing output. As librarians, we don’t get too many opportunities to see how students use their information literacy skills in their written work. By assessing student output, we can actually track competency in our learning outcomes. We believe that students’ papers provide the best evidence of success or failure in the library classroom, and we feel lucky that our teaching faculty partners have given us access to graded work for our assessment projects.

Musings on Outreach as Instruction

Last week, librarians from many branches of our university gathered for a Teaching Librarians Retreat. The retreat was organized and hosted by a few wonderful colleagues, who I cannot thank enough for their efforts and a fantastic event. The goal for the retreat was to promote a community of sharing, peer support, and ongoing learning among UI librarians who teach, and was a chance to reflect on the year and find colleagues with similar interests and concerns about teaching. Making dedicated time for sharing and reflection is especially important in an institution as large and with as many librarians as ours.

We broke out into discussion groups for part of the retreat, and my group gathered to talk about “outreach as instruction.” What struck me first as we each shared our thoughts is that “outreach” can mean so many different things. We had people contributing to the conversation from perspectives of social media, events and programming, marketing, digital badges, special collections, working with student organizations, and outreach to faculty vs. students vs. the community.

My take on “outreach as instruction” and why it matters has to do with the limitations of one-shot sessions and ways we can expand the impact of instruction beyond traditional methods. One-shot sessions are valuable as point-of-need instruction for academic coursework, but relying solely on them is limiting: only a fraction of students receive library instruction, and a number of them may not be particularly interested in the General Education required course that brought them into the library. This is where I think outreach can be powerful – in the many possibilities to connect with students outside of a classroom setting, while still teaching something. Here are a few ideas on how to go about doing that:

  1. Connect over something interest-based, rather than academics-based. For example, I’ve heard of academic libraries having knitting sessions (which is also closely tied with stress-relief activities during finals week), but it could be something else. The draw to participate is something of general interest that can also be connected to research and resources available at the library.
  2. Communicate with student organizations, and let the student leaders know how the library can support their group and members. This can lead to tailored teaching opportunities for students who are involved and invested in a group that may not get this attention and instruction otherwise.
  3. Use the collection creatively. We’ve found ways to do this by using images from the Iowa Digital Library on buttons, postcards, and Valentine cards. Those are all short and simple activities that can naturally lead to learning something new about a variety of resources. (You can see the Valentine’s activities here.)

Those are just a few ideas, which clearly come from my perspective as an Undergraduate Services Librarian (and barely crack the surface of our group discussion at the Teaching Librarians Retreat). For you, “outreach as instruction” could mean building on relationships with faculty, an emphasis on social media, or something else. Outreach itself is a broad concept with multiple definitions, but that also means there are so many variations and opportunities for librarians to engage with their users and community.

When I hear “outreach as instruction,” I think of how we can connect with undergraduates in ways other than in the classroom for a one-shot session, and incorporate what I like to call “nuggets of information literacy.” What does it mean for you and your library?

Beyond Livetweeting: Twitter Chats for Professional Development

This time 11 days ago I was grumpy. It was the last Friday before Spring Break, and I was prepping to teach an English Comp I session the next morning — not just a Saturday class but the Saturday before the break week. Our English Comp I sessions are typically assignment-driven, as we’ve found that to be more useful for students than a library tour or orientation, and having an assignment to work on encourages them to participate during the session.

But this class was different. Just one week prior to the library session, the current professor had taken over this class from another professor who’d fallen ill. The new prof was still getting his bearings with the students and he hadn’t yet assigned the research essay. I’d been thinking for a while now that I need to develop a solid plan for these occasional no-assignment sessions, something interactive and useful to students, but it’s been a busy semester and I haven’t found the time to put to it. So there I was with a class the next morning, not at all sure what I’d do with those students, how I’d keep them awake and engaged on the last day before break, or what I could offer that would be of most use to them when they eventually got to work on their research assignments near the end of the semester.

And then I remembered the most recent #critlib chat. What is #critlib, you ask? It’s a Twitter chat held at 9pm Eastern time every other Tuesday, begun earlier this month by moderators (in alphabetical order by Twitter handle) Jenna Freedman (@barnlib), Annie Pho (@catladylib), Emily Drabinski (@edrabinski), Kelly McElroy (@kellymce), and Nicole Pagowsky (@pumpedlibrarian). The purpose of the chat is to “engage in discussion about what critical pedagogy is and how it can be used in library instruction.” The most recent chat, on April 8, was terrific, with conversation ranging from whether neutrality is possible to strategies for encouraging our students to think critically about information. As Barbara pointed out:

At the time I’d wondered how I could incorporate what I read and learned during the chat into my usual strategy for teaching the English Comp I library session, and the need to create a new strategy for this no-assignment session let me do just that. I was lucky that the professor’s broad topic for the class is the American Dream, which is perhaps more amenable to a critical information literacy lens than many topics. I began by spending time talking with students about creating a more narrow research question from a broad topic, and we used the hypothetical research question “Is the American Dream available to all Americans in 2014?” to generate keywords and synonyms for searching which I wrote on the whiteboard.

Overall the session included more questions and discussion and less time for students to search on their own than the more assignment-driven sessions I teach. We spent lots of time talking about how information is produced and distributed while trying to keep a practical focus on what’s available in the library and what’s available on the open internet. We talked about how search engine results are ranked, and what to consider when choosing which information to use. I asked them to work with a partner to find one library and one internet source; while I love asking students to work together, it can be challenging if each student has chosen a different research topic.

While much of what I did in this session is similar to what I do in the more assignment-driven sessions, reviewing the #critlib chat before planning the session helped me stay mindful of critical approaches to information literacy as I was teaching. There’s always so much to cover in a library session and it can be so easy to charge on through, and I’m grateful that participating in the chat two weeks ago reminded me to look for opportunities to draw in students’ own experiences and to question the information landscape with students.

I’ve used Twitter to catch up on conference livetweeting for a while now, and also get lots of recommendations for professional reading and resources from the folks I follow, but this is the first time I’ve dipped into a Twitter chat for professional development. If you’ve missed the two chats so far, never fear: there’s a terrific cheat sheet/repository of chats and questions with links to a Zotero bibliography and a Storify of each chat. And if you’re interested in critical information literacy, please join in! The next chat is tomorrow, Tuesday April 22nd, at 9pm Eastern. Use the hashtag #critlib to tweet and follow the conversations.

Wondering About Workshops

Like many academic librarians, my colleagues and I teach several drop-in workshops each semester for faculty and staff at the college on topics like citation managers, Google Scholar and other specialized research tools, and instructional web design, among others. I’ve written a couple of times here about these workshops: we consider them to be opportunities for outreach as much as for instruction, though our attendance levels have waxed and waned over the years, leading us to add a workshops by request option for departments or other groups of interested faculty and staff. The latter has been intermittently successful — some semesters we’ve gotten several requests for workshops while others have seen none — though since these workshops can typically be prepped fairly quickly we’ve decided to keep offering them for now.

The past year or so has brought a new twist to our faculty/staff workshops: students! For several of the workshops we’ve offered — most recently one focusing on using ILL and other libraries in New York City to make the most of research beyond our college library — we’ve had one or two students attending as well as faculty and staff. We advertise the workshops on a faculty and staff email list that doesn’t include students, but we also hang posters around campus, which is probably the way students have learned about the workshops (or via our blog or Twitter). We’ve always had plenty of room in the workshops for the students who’ve dropped in and, as far as I know, there haven’t been any problems with the occasional student sitting in on a workshop with faculty and staff.

If there aren’t any problems, what’s to say about it? I keep coming back to thinking about students in the faculty/staff workshops for a couple of reasons. We used to offer drop-in workshops for students, too, but stopped doing so a few years ago because we very rarely had anyone show up. Perhaps it’s time to bring drop-in student workshops (not course-related) back into our instructional mix? One thing to note is that in the past the drop-in student workshops typically covered one resource like Academic Search Complete or LexisNexis, or were much more general workshops on research strategies for students. Maybe the more specific and advanced topics covered in the faculty/staff workshops are more appealing to our students, especially those who’ve already taken English Comp I, which requires a library instruction session?

On the other hand, every workshop requires at least a little bit of prep time, not to mention the time to promote it via email, posters, blogging, and Twitter. Our workshop committee is fairly busy already, so to add workshops that may not be well-attended could be tough.

All of which makes me wonder: if our faculty/staff workshops are not currently overcrowded, and our student workshops were not historically overcrowded, might we consider offering workshops that are open to any member of the college community, faculty, staff, and students alike?

To my knowledge we’ve never done that before. What are the possible ramifications of workshops open to all? Research has shown that interaction between students and faculty outside of the classroom has a positive impact on student engagement (Kuh et al., 2007, Piecing Together the Student Success Puzzle). Could open workshops provide those opportunities? Would faculty be uncomfortable learning something new alongside students, or vice versa? We would probably want to avoid workshop topics focused on developing plagiarism-resistant research assignments or the like, right? Or would there be a benefit to opening up an information literacy workshop pitched at faculty to students, as well?

If you’re offering workshops or other instructional opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to attend together, I’d love to hear about it!