Tag Archives: library instruction

A Guide, or a Crutch?

We’re moving the subject guides on our library website from HTML pages into a wiki, which we hope will make them easier for us to update and customize. It’s been a nice opportunity to freshen the content, weed out the dead links, etc. We plan to encourage faculty across the college to contribute to the subject guides as well as collaborate on custom research guides for their courses.

I’m finding myself with a couple of nagging concerns as I start the conversion project. Are we making it too easy for our students when we create subject or research guides for them? If they start with a subject guide, are they fully learning how to do research–how to find, select and evaluate information? Are we missing an opportunity for information literacy instruction, or even intentionally removing that opportunity? Or, do subject guides help us take advantage of technology to extend our instructional efforts?

Subject guides can definitely be useful to students, especially those in the early years of their college careers who may not be familiar with college-level research. Instructors can encourage students to use the subject guide as a starting point (and require them to incorporate resources beyond those included in the guide). Since students often take courses in disciplines that are entirely new to them, getting a research foothold is a challenge that a subject guide can facilitate.

However, when we give students a subject guide for them to use to start their research, we’re not exposing them to an actual, real-world research situation. It’s true that it’s more difficult to do research on a topic that’s unfamiliar, but throughout their lives our students will likely need to find information about lots of topics with which they have no prior knowledge. It’s much more challenging to start researching from scratch, but it is difficult to develop the ability to create and iterate search strategies when research resources are provided in a subject guide.

Subject guides can also benefit students in courses that, for whatever reason, can’t accommodate library instruction. I prefer the opportunity to incorporate information literacy into a course in the classroom, but surely some subject-specific research assistance is better than none, right? But I also wonder whether instructors who make use of subject or research guides in their classes will be less likely to bring their students for library instruction or collaborate with librarians to incorporate information literacy into their curriculum.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how our subject guides develop once they’re on the wiki. If your library creates collaborative subject or research guides with faculty, what have your experiences been?

A Full Day of Information Literacy

Last week I went to the ACRL New England chapter’s Library Instruction Group (NELIG) annual program Meeting Digital Natives Where They Are: New Standards for the New Student. This was my first conference entirely devoted to library instruction, and it was great to have the opportunity to think and talk about information literacy all day.

The morning started off with keynote speaker John Palfrey, Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School and author (with Urs Gasser) of Born Digital. The book reports on the results of their interviews, focus groups and surveys with the oft-discussed millennial generation, exploring the way these kids relate to information, one another and institutions. I won’t recap the book (or transcribe the piles of notes I took), but here are a couple of takeaways I found most relevant for academic libraries:

  • Credibility is a huge issue for us adults: we fear that kids are highly susceptible to misinformation on the internet. But Palfrey’s research found that most kids don’t use information from Wikipedia verbatim or uncritically. Most use it to get an overview of a topic, and then head to the references at the bottom of the page to find more information. I use Wikipedia like this all the time in my teaching so I found this to be quite encouraging.
  • The digital generation has an incomplete understanding of intellectual property. It’s true that many of them do download and share music illegally (and they realize that it’s illegal). But they don’t know that there are legal ways to use copyrighted materials–fair use–so they hesitate to use them to remix or mashup content. This is a great opportunity for librarians to help students learn about ethical use of information.

I haven’t read the book yet, but after seeing Palfrey speak I’ve added it to my summer reading list. There’s some innovative supplemental material too: they asked kids to create podcasts interpreting each chapter of the book. The video he shared with us was fascinating and well worth a watch.

Next there were two breakout sessions, each with multiple presentations. Full disclosure: I was a presenter in the first session, where I discussed a classroom game I’m developing to teach students how to evaluate information. Many thanks to all who attended my session and contributed to our lively discussion. The one down side is that I missed the other presentations, though I caught up with them on the program website and NELIG blog.

During the second session I went to The Big Picture: Visual Storytelling in Library Instruction, presented by Nicole E. Brown and Erica Schattle of Emerson College. They shared an innovative approach for library instruction that uses images to tell a story to introduce students to research. They present information to students in three ways:

1. their slides contain images (only!): first a few slides to introduce a metaphor for research (in this case, learning to swim), and then several that illustrate the process of research
2. their spoken narrative describes the steps taken while doing research
3. their handout provides details on information sources students can use for their research during the library session

By modeling the process of research they were able to inspire students into action, and after this short introduction students spent the remainder of the session actively searching for information on their topics.

The final session featured Clarence Maybee and Charlotte Droll from Colgate University who presented The Crossroads of Learning: Librarians and IT Professionals Banding Together to Embed Information and Technology Literacies into Undergraduate Courses. They described two student projects–a podcast and a poster session–in which librarians and instructional technologists collaborated with course professors. Both the podcasts and the poster session encouraged students to step out of their comfort zone and added a public dimension to their work. Students were more engaged with these projects than with a typical research paper, and seemed to work harder, too.

By the end of the day I was fading fast, since I had to wake up at 5:30am to get the train up from NYC. But I was glad I went: it was a fantastic program (kudos to the organizers!), and I really enjoyed spending the day geeking out on information literacy. I came away with lots of ideas for my own instruction, too, and I can’t wait to try them out.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter Break

Finals end today at the college where I work, and the semester is coming to a close. I really value the stretch of slower days in the library during the intersession; it’s a great time to take stock of what we’re doing and where we’re headed. This semester was incredibly busy, with a big increase in enrollment and much more instruction than last fall, so I’m even more grateful for the temporary slowdown. This winter break I’ve got three big projects to I’m hoping to tackle:

1. Planning for Next Semester
The core of our library instruction program is a mandatory one-shot for all English Composition classes, and our instruction librarians met last week for a debrief and planning session. For next semester our focus is on increasing both student and faculty participation in these sessions. We brainstormed a number of strategies at our meeting and will start to implement them over the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to teaching the revised sessions next semester — it’ll be interesting to see how these changes impact student engagement.

2. Long-term Program Ideas
In addition to prepping for our Spring instruction sessions, I’m hoping to take some time this intersession to think more about the future of our information literacy and library instruction program. I’m especially interested in learning more about programs that feature intensive, one-on-one collaboration between librarians and faculty in other departments. I’m excited to dig into research on faculty development programs like the Undergraduate Information Competency Initiative at Cornell University, the information literacy workshops at James Madison University, and the Information Literacy Quality Enhancement Plan at Trinity University.

3. Research and Scholarly Work
I’ll have a few research leave days in January, so I’m planning to catch up on some research and writing. I’m working on a research project with a colleague this year and we’ve got a pile of data from interviews with faculty and students to start to analyze; I’m also beginning a study with another colleague. And, despite my best efforts at keeping up, I still have a stack of articles that I haven’t found time to get through this semester. If I can shrink that tower of paper by the end of the winter break, it will definitely feel like an accomplishment!

The Pros and Cons of Reinventing the Wheel

Now that the slower summer months are here I’m taking some time to work on a couple of big projects. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about online tutorials. We have a large student population and a relatively small library, and I’m always looking for ways to extend our instructional efforts. Tutorials covering various research skills, information literacy competencies, and library services may be one way to stretch our resources and reach more students and faculty than we can in the classroom or at the reference desk. And tutorials delivered via video, audio or text can provide additional means of instruction to accommodate multiple learning styles.

On our library website we link out to several great tutorials from other colleges and universities. There are also many online tutorial repositories out there with loads of good content, including ACRL’s own PRIMO: Peer-Reviewed Instructional Materials Online Database. MERLOT, the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, also features research-related tutorials.

But recently I’ve started to think that we should create our own tutorials. Local conditions are certainly a factor. Some resources, like the catalog, are unique to us, so we can’t just link out to another OPAC tutorial. But we are part of a large university system, so in theory we could link to tutorials for shared resources created at other campuses.

There may be usability issues as well. When patrons open a linked tutorial from another library — even if it’s in a new browser window — I worry that we may lose them from our own website. If we use tutorials from other libraries, we must consider how to direct users to those resources from our own library homepage. What about training materials provided by database and service vendors — do they have a place alongside our own, librarian-created online instructional materials?

There’s also the issue of branding: must our online instructional materials have our own logo and library name? I wonder whether local branding is important to students and faculty, and how our users feel when they’re directed to a tutorial created by another institution.

Academic libraries come in many shapes and sizes, though we all share a similar mission of which instruction is a critical component. But no institution has infinite funding and personnel. While the tools for creating web guides, audio podcasts and video tutorials get easier to use (and less expensive) by the day, it still takes time and effort to create them. And many institutions have already created excellent online instructional materials.

Do we spend too much time reinventing the wheel when we create local versions of tutorials on common topics? Is it smarter to link out to materials created by other entities? Or is a mix of the two the best strategy?

Thinking About the Future

As the end of the semester rolls around I’ve been sorting through the evaluations that we ask our English Composition I students to fill out at the end of their required library session. I was scrolling through the spreadsheet of student responses the other day and one in particular jumped out at me: “How will this help us in the future?”

It’s often said that there are no bad questions (and I agree), but there are also some really good questions and that’s one of them. Why DO our students need what we teach them in a library session? How will they apply what they’ve learned in our classes to their lives in the future?

I spend the first part of my classes trying to emphasize that information literacy and the research skills they’ll begin to learn in college are transferable knowledge. I give them concrete examples of the relevance of information literacy to their careers (preparing for job interviews, staying current in their fields, etc.) and their lives beyond college (finding health information, moving or traveling to a new place, etc.). I’m at a college of technical and professional studies, and planning for their future jobs is always on students’ minds.

I also point out that becoming a proficient searcher is relevant to their work here at college, when they’ll need to search for library materials, and for searching the internet (again, both in college and in their everyday lives). I stress that different questions require different information to answer, and the importance of evaluating information, especially on the internet but also “traditionally” published information.

Our time in the library sessions always seems too short, but I feel like I do a reasonably good job of explaining the relevance of research skills and information literacy to the lives of our students both in college and in the future. So, what happened in that class? Did the student come to the session late, or sleep (or web surf) through the beginning, when I usually cover these topics?

Or are the reasons I give to students not compelling enough? Maybe they’ve heard it all before, that every subject they’re required to study is relevant, and since they haven’t actually gotten to their post-college careers and lives it’s not real for them yet.

Whatever the student’s reason for asking the question, it’s still a good question. I’ve written it on a post-it and stuck it above my computer monitor so I can keep it in mind when thinking about the future of our information literacy and instruction program, too.