Tag Archives: instruction

Flipping Out: Reflections Upon Landing

Last month, I shared my plans for creating “flipped” library instruction sessions. Now, after wrapping up my last flipped session, along with several conversations with my colleauges, and the opportunity to co-facilitate a “Flipped Classroom” faculty workshop, I am still digesting and evaluating all that I have learned. However, there are a few key takeaways that are bubbling to the forefront of my mind and actively shaping the rest of my instruction this semester.

“Did you know the whole section would be about my topic?”
Or – Understanding the flipped classroom as a vehicle for active learning

As I planned my flipped sessions, I struggled with understanding how flipped instruction is related to “active learning” and/or “problem-based learning. The library instruction program at my university already places a heavy emphasis on incorporating active learning exercises into our sessions, and we regularly attempt to tie library instruction directly to the course research assignments. This means that as I worked on my flipped session, I found myself modifying some existing in-class activities to promote deeper levels of understanding, rather than starting from scratch.

In one class, I had enough time to ask first-year students to search the catalog for a book about their research topic, go into the stacks to find their book, bring the book back to class, and then debrief about the experience with their classmates. It was much more effective, and quite frankly more fun, to talk about LC Classification and Subject Headings after one student spontaneously exclaimed – “I picked TWO books about my topic because I realized THE WHOLE SHELF was about sports technology!”

After this experience, I’ve come to understand my flipped classroom as a vehicle for creating additional space for active learning in the classroom. Of course, there is no such thing as “the” flipped classroom, and other interpretations of the flipped classroom abound. For me, the providing students with a pre-class “lecture” foundation on which they can build upon with active learning in the classroom was more successful than trying to cram both tasks into the regular class time.

“Oh… those videos before class weren’t optional?”
Or – Students might not complete the pre-class work. And that’s O.K.

Of course, this ideal “flipped classroom as a vehicle for active learning” assumes students come to class prepared. And a frequent concern about the flipped classroom is: “What if students don’t complete the pre-class work?” Unfortunately, there will always be students who come to class unprepared, and considering what the consequences will be for students if they don’t complete the pre-assigned work is important. Our students are smart – they learn quickly whether preparing for class is really necessary. Designing in-class assignments which require the prior knowledge gained through the pre-class homework is one way to show students it’s worth their while to come prepared.

In practice, other “consequences” for failing to complete pre-class work may mean students must complete the pre-class materials during in-class time before they are allowed to continue to the more interesting and challenging application exercises. We know some students may still struggle through class, since exposure to the pre-class activities does not necessarily guarantee students achieved any level of mastery with the material. In my sessions, I tried to purposefully use group activities in-class to emphasize peer learning, assuming students who completed and understood the material could be models for students who did not. Additionally, students were encouraged to review pre-class video materials if needed, and to ask questions as they worked through their activities.

The short quiz I paired with my pre-class material helped me monitor how many students completed pre-class work and how well they understood the material. In each of my flipped class sessions, over 3/4 of the students completed the work before class; I considered this to be a relatively high success rate. It was also helpful to go into the in-class session knowing the bulk of the class had at least attempted the pre-class work and where the problem areas we really needed to adress might be.

“But… aren’t you going to talk first?”
Or – Students are also curious about the lack of direct lecture in class.

Students often comment in their course evaluations or session feedback that library instruction should include more time for activities and less time devoted to lecture. As a new instructor, I struggle with this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that creating active-learning based instruction that allows students to “discover” answers to questions or build their own skills is frequently harder than falling back into the “sage on the stage” routine. Of course, there is also no guarantee that students will use class time appropriately when given the requested discussion or problem-based activities. So I was extremely interested to find out how students would respond to the lack of direct, in-class instruction in the flipped sessions.

During my first flipped class, I decided to give a “quick” review of the pre-class material before students started on their activities. Big mistake, since the “review” quickly turned into a regular lecture. However, during my second flipped class I simply asked students to come in and get started on their activity, reminding them they should work together and review the video materials or ask questions, as necessary. At first, they were confused about not starting with a lecture, however they eventually dove into the activity with success. And encouraging students to first attempt the activity allowed me to eventually review only the concepts that the majority of the class was consistently struggling with (for instance, correctly combining both “ANDs” and “ORs” in a complex database search). Overall, this session was much more enjoyable for both myself and my students, and it was one of the few times I left our session confident that class time was used to its fullest advantage.

Talking about teaching has value.

My final point of reflection is not limited to “flipped instruction,” but has grown out of conversations with my colleagues inspired by our participation in the flipped project. Given heavy instruction loads, faculty or student expectations, and other pressing projects, it’s easy to fall back into comfortable patterns of the same ol’ library session. Sometimes, simply carving out the time to talk about teaching seems like a luxury we cannot necessarily afford. Given the increasing emphasis on instruction in academic libraries, our mission to arm students with multifaceted critical information skills, and the trend toward providing evidence that our instruction adds value to the library and our parent institutions, deeper discussions about teaching and pedagogy can’t just be a luxury – they should be the reality.

I am lucky to have a job where I am encouraged to think about teaching, talk about teaching, and take calculated risks to grow as an instructor. Incorporating new pedagogical strategies like the “flipped classroom” is just one example of how this might happen.

Flipping Out: Preflip Planning

One of my current professional goals is to experiment with new ways to improve my library instruction sessions and grow as an instructor. So when our residency librarian decided to lead a group of instruction librarians to test the “flipped classroom” in library instruction, I welcomed the opportunity to discover how “flipping” might transform my classes. Given the previous interest in “flipping” here at ACRLog, I’ve also decided to share a bit of my planning, implementation, and reflection to continue the discussion about “flipping out” in the library world.

At first, re-envisioning my instruction sessions was a bit overwhelming – although I am still a newbie library instructor, I spent a great amount of time last semester crafting lessons and developing my own teaching style. I can only image how daunting this may seem to more experienced instructors who have honed their own lessons and style over several years of teaching!

Although I’ve used different lesson planning methods during graduate school classes and in my first semester of teaching, (e.g., Backward Design and Madeline Hunter’s model), I had trouble using these methods to plan my flip. Pretty soon, I found myself falling back to the “5 W’s” –  Who, What, When, and Why – to organize my thoughts. My considerations for each question are below.

Photo: By Ted Hood (Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales)

WHO: Who are the students in my flipped class? Who is the professor? Which class will lead to the most successful flipped experience?

If considering only learning outcomes and session materials, nearly any of my instruction sessions could be flipped. However, since the professor for my assigned freshman seminar class is equally interested  in trying out new instruction techniques, I decided his class would be a good match for the trial flipped sessions. Due to his support and investment in the process, I feel confident he will actually distribute pre-class materials to students and will motivate students to complete the assigned pre-class work. (As an added bonus, I also have three, 75-minute instruction sessions with this class, which leaves a cushion to “catch-up” if for some reason the entire flipped experience falls apart.)

WHAT: What are the student learning outcomes? What will students learn through pre-class materials? What activities will students complete during class to cement learning?

Answering these questions has been the most difficult part of planning my flipped classroom. During my “regular” classes, I already try to involve students with hands-on, active learning experiences whenever possible. The challenge with the “flip” has been to make those activities more complex, pushing students to deeper levels of learning, as well as to identify what types of pre-class background students need to successfully complete those activities. Our residency librarian presented this as “What are the basics students should come to class knowing? What are the complexities that in-class sessions will address?”

Like many of the librarians in our “flipping” group, I am using the library’s existing collection of online tutorials as the basis of my flipped materials. I decided to give students 2-3 short videos to watch before class to cover  basic skills, like the “click-by-click” mechanics of searching a database and the beginnings of constructing a search. Then, in-class activities will challenge them to apply those skills to their group research project at increasingly challenging levels.

WHERE: How will flipped materials be organized and delivered to students?

I’m already a big fan of using Google Forms to collect student feedback at the end of instruction sessions. Since I wanted to pair the pre-class videos with a measure of how many students completed the activities and how well they understood the material, Google Forms once again turned out to be an easy solution. For each flipped session, I created a Google form with links to videos along with quiz questions, and the course professor will distribute the form to students before our session.

WHEN: When should students complete pre-class activities?

The week before our in-class session, students will have access to the pre-class materials. Any earlier and I worry the connection between pre-class videos and in-class activities would be lost. This decision was fairly easy to nail down, and getting the date on my calendar is a good reminder finish materials with enough time to review the plan with the professor, distribute to students, etc.

WHY: Why is “flipping” an method I want to try for library instruction?

Although “flipping” is one way I’m fulfilling my goal to explore new instructional techniques, the deeper I dig into planning, the more I think it’s a model that can be useful in library instruction. Most of the librarians I work with or have observed are already moving away from lectures and database demonstrations. But it’s hard to jump into more complex applications and exploratory activities during a traditional 50 or 60 minute class if students don’t have a basic foundation on which to build advanced skills. Off-loading the procedural instructions, like how to navigate the library’s website or basic catalog searching, to pre-class activities can free up in-class time for librarians to help students work through more complex activities.

My flipped experiment is also allowing me to carve out a chunk of in-class time to address additional material, including brainstorming and concept mapping. Last semester, I noticed students in the seminar struggling to craft a manageable research question, which later affected their ability to construct effective searches and to evaluate information for it’s relevancy to their topic. This semester, since I’m providing some of the procedural instruction outside of class, I can accommodate more hands-on experiences into the class and set students up for better guided learning.

Ready, Set, Go!

The first round of pre-class materials is going out to students this week, and our first in-class session is next week! I am excited for student responses to the pre-class material to start coming in and to dive into the full flipped experience. I’m planning to report back in March with my thoughts about how the flip unfolds!

Do you have experience with the flipped classroom? What considerations do you think are vital when planning “the flip?”

Research Librarianship in Crisis: Mediate When, Where, and How?

This month’s post in our series of guest academic librarian bloggers is by Bohyun Kim, Digital Access Librarian, Florida International University Medical Library. She blogs at Library Hat.

The talk about the crisis of librarianship is nothing new. Most recently, back in May, Seth Godin, a marketing guru, has written on his blog a post about the future of libraries. Many librarians criticized that Godin failed to fully understand the value of librarians and libraries.  But his point that libraries and librarians may no longer be needed was not entirely without merit (See my post “Beyond the Middlemen and the Warehouse Business”). Whether we librarians like it or not, more and more library users are obtaining information without our help.

One may think academic research libraries are an exception from this. Unfortunately, the same trend prevails even at research libraries. In his guest editorial for the Journal of Academic Librarianship, “The Crisis in Research Librarianship (pre-print version)”, Rick Anderson makes the case that patrons are finding information effectively without librarians’ help, citing the drastic decline of reference transactions in Association of Research Libraries (ARL).  According the ARL statistics, the number of reference transactions went down by more than 50-60 % since 1995.

This is particularly worrisome considering that at research libraries, we tend to place reference and instruction services at the center of the library operation and services. These services delivered by physical or online contact are still deemed to be one of the most prominent and important parts of the academic library operation. But the actual user behavior shows that they can and do get their research done without much help from librarians.  To make matters worse, existing library functions and structures that we consider to be central appear to play only a marginal role in the real lives of academic library users.  Anderson states: “Virtually none of them begins a research project at the library’s website; the average student at a major research university has fewer than four interactions with a reference librarian in a year (and even fewer of those are substantive reference interviews); printed books circulate at lower and lower rates every year.”

We have heard this before. So why are we still going in the same direction as we were a decade ago? Could this be perhaps because we haven’t figured out yet what other than reference and instruction to place in the heart of the library services?

For almost three years, my library has been offering workshops for library users. Workshops are a precious opportunity for academic librarians to engage in instruction, the most highly regarded activity at an academic library. But our workshop attendance has been constantly low. Interestingly, however, those who attended always rated the workshops highly. So the low attendance wasn’t the result of the workshops being bad or not useful. Library users simply preferred to spend their time and attention on something other than library workshops.  I remember two things that brought out palpable appreciation from users during those workshops: how to get the full-text of an article immediately and how to use the library’s LibX toolbar to make that process even faster and shorter.

What users seemed to want to know most was how to get the tasks for their research done fast, and they preferred to do so by themselves. They appreciated any tools that help them to achieve this if the tools were easy to use.  But they were not interested in being mediated by a librarian.

What does this mean?  It means that those library services and programs that aim at increasing contact between librarians and patrons are likely to fail and to be received poorly by users. Not necessarily because those offerings are bad but because users prefer not to be mediated by librarians in locating and using information and resources.

This is a serious dilemma. Librarians exist to serve as a mediator between users and resources. We try to guide them to the best resources and help them to make the best use of those resources.  But the users consider our mediation as a speed bump rather than as value-added service. So where do research libraries and librarians go from here?

I think that librarians will still be needed for research in the digital era. However, the point at which librarians’ mediation is sought for and appreciated may vastly differ from that in the past when information was scarce and hard to obtain.  Users will no longer need nor desire human mediation in basic and simple tasks such as locating and accessing information. Most of them already have no patience to sit through a bibliographic instruction class and/or to read through a subject guide.

But users may appreciate and even seek for mediation in more complicated tasks such as creating a relevant and manageable data set for their research.  Users may welcome any tool that libraries offer that makes the process of research from the beginning to the final product easier and faster. They will want better user interfaces for library systems. They will appreciate better bridges that will connect them with non-library systems to make library resources more easily discoverable and retrievable.  They will want libraries to be an invisible interface that removes any barrier between them and information.  This type of mediation is new to librarians and libraries.  Is it possible that in the future the libraries and librarians’ work is deemed successful exactly in inverse proportion to how visible and noticeable their mediation is?

In his guest editorial, Anderson presents several scenarios of research libraries “going out of business.” Libraries being absorbed into an IT group; Libraries losing computer labs, thereby losing a source of transaction with users as laptops and handheld devices become widely adopted; Libraries budget taken away for better investments; Libraries’ roles and functions being eroded slowly by other units; Information resources that libraries provide being purchased directly by users.

So if a library comes to lose its facilities such as a computer lab, a reading room, carrels, and group study rooms, would there still remain the need for librarians? If a library ends up removing its reference desk, workshops, and other instruction classes, what would librarians be left to do?  If we consider the library space that can be offered and managed by any other unit on campus as the essential part of library services and operation, the answer to these questions would be negative.  As long as we consider reference and instruction – the direct contact with users to mediate between them and resources – as the primary purpose of a library, the answer to these questions would be negative.

Libraries may never lose their facilities, and the need for users to have a direct contact with librarians may never completely go away. But these questions are still worth for us to ponder if we do not want to build a library’s main mission upon something on which the library’s patrons do not place much value. The prospect for the future libraries and librarians may not necessarily be dreary. But we need to rethink where the heart of research librarianship should lie.

Don’t Make It Easy For Them

This month’s post in our series of guest academic librarian bloggers is from Andy Burkhardt, Emerging Technologies Librarian at Champlain College in Vermont. He also blogs at Information Tyrannosaur.

I love customer service in libraries. I love improving our systems and services so they are more user-friendly. I love helping students with their research and answering their questions. But I don’t want to make things easy for students. If I did, I wouldn’t be giving them what they want: an education.

In information literacy sessions, which of these two scenarios is easier for students: letting them sit there while you demo the catalog and a database or having them play with the search tools themselves and then explain to the rest of the class how they work? The first one is way easier. Students can sleep, text, or zone out without having to think or learn anything. The second situation is exceedingly more challenging. Students have to actually have hands on contact with the tools. They also have to learn them well enough to explain them to their classmates. They have to talk!

At the reference desk, what’s easier for a student: when a librarian searches the catalog for them and gives them a relevant book, or when the librarian asks them a bunch of questions, has them explain their topic clearly, and makes them search the catalog? Clearly the first one is nearly effortless for the student. Ask and they receive. The second one is significantly more demanding. After asking a question, the student is asked more questions back. They have to work to define and redefine their topic into something clear. And they have to try searching for a book themselves!

When an online student is looking for an article, should we just send a PDF or should we make a quick screencast about how to get to that article in our databases? Sending the PDF as an email attachment would be much easier for the student. It would also be much easier for the librarian. In fact, things that are easier for students are often easier for librarians too. It’s easy to send a PDF. It’s simple to go through the motions of demoing a database you have shown hundreds of times. It’s a cake-walk to give a student a book and send them on their way. But if we take the easy route, we’re failing them. Learning isn’t easy; it’s hard work. It can be interesting, challenging, confusing, overwhelming, engaging, scary and really fun, but not easy. It’s never easy. Part of our service to students is challenging them so they learn and grow.

I try to remember not to make it easy for students, but also not to make it easy for myself. If my job is starting to seem easy, I’m doing something wrong.

Must Scheduling be Sisyphean?

I was planning to post last week about something interesting I’d read in the library or higher ed news and literature, but I haven’t kept up with my reading as much as usual recently. The task that’s been occupying my time? Scheduling our English Comp library instruction sessions. It’s not the most glamorous or fun part of my job, but it’s one of the most important. Every semester the scheduling process seems to drag on and on, and I find myself thinking that there has to be a better way. But once the schedule is set my grumpiness fades away, conveniently forgotten until the beginning of the next semester. I always intend to spend time between semesters researching scheduling alternatives, but there’s usually a project that’s so much more interesting that it elbows scheduling out of the way.

We use Google Calendar to keep track of the library’s schedule (not just instruction, but reference, meetings, etc.), and I’m reasonably satisfied with it. It’s the process of scheduling classes and librarian instructors that I think could use some tweaking. In the past I’ve waited until a few days into the semester to get the final list of classes from the English Department (sometimes sections are added or canceled at the last minute, depending on enrollment). Then I’ve taken the class list and our calendar and slotted all of the sections into our library classroom schedule. And then I’ve tentatively assigned instruction librarians to the schedule, trying to make sure that no one is responsible for too many early morning, evening or weekend sessions. Once the instruction librarians have approved their schedules, each of us has contacted the English instructors for the library sessions we’re teaching. Occasionally there’s a bit of horsetrading when an English instructor requests a date change, but usually not too much.

This semester we tried something a bit different and asked the English faculty when in the semester they’d like their library session to be scheduled, emphasizing that we’d like their students to come to the session with a research topic in hand that they can use to practice searching for library and internet resources. I got a preliminary list of classes from the English department and contacted faculty a few days before classes began, but there were still a handful that I wasn’t able to get in touch with until the second week of classes. About two-thirds of the instructors responded with their preferred dates, and I was able to give most of them their first choice (I’d asked for 3 possibilities). I put the remainder of classes in our schedule as before and contacted those instructors to let them know. We also decided we’d try asking the instruction librarians to pick the classes they’d like to teach, so each of us chose our sections once the schedule was set.

I do think that scheduling went a bit smoother this semester, but it’s hard to know exactly why. We have significantly fewer sections of English Comp this spring than we had in the fall (64 rather than 126), which definitely impacts scheduling. But in some ways I feel like the amount of time spent scheduling hasn’t changed, it’s just been spread out more evenly: I’m fielding emails from faculty and putting sessions into the calendar in dribs and drabs over the course of the two weeks rather than in a couple of big, multi-hour scheduling binges. We’ll see if this method can hold up in the fall.

How does your library schedule instruction sessions? Are there any tips or tricks for streamlining the process that you can share?