The Key Word is Scalability

Cal State Fullerton is a campus of 38,000 students and 2,000 faculty. We have about sixteen instruction librarians (figuring in part-time people). That’s 2,375 students and 125 faculty for each librarian.

From these numbers, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that we are very interested in exploring scalable solutions to reach more of our campus. Of course, our staff isn’t going to be scaled up anytime soon. Minimized over the last few years through attrition, instruction librarian staff here is already struggling to keep up with existing obligations. We also have a fixed number of computer classrooms available for library instruction – just three.

Altogether, we have limited instruction staff, time, and space. With limited time, we need to prioritize higher-level work. We need to repurpose and reuse wherever possible. We already have to say no to some instructors that request a library session simply due to lack of space, and we’re currently serving only a handful of online classes.

These challenges mean that we have to explore novel pedagogical solutions – either trying flipped classrooms, or automated online lessons, or online lessons facilitated by librarians.

The One-Shot is Outdated

I’ve taught information literacy one-shot sessions for freshmen at four different institutions, and the format is basically the same at all of them. Students are assigned a research paper by their instructor. Instructor requests one-shot library session. Librarian creates class LibGuide, or offers existing LibGuide. In the one-shot, the librarian extols the virtues of library resources over google. Librarian provides a LibGuide walk-through, and demos databases. Librarian explains how to search Academic Search Complete/Premier. Librarian gives students time to search their own topics.

However, the one-shot library session traditionally includes more informing than instructing, which is likely an effect of the need to cram as much as possible into a single hour. We get only an hour with students so we spend a lot of that hour convincing students to use library resources. However, effective instruction results in measurable behavioral change. Effective instruction is equipping students with new skills (behaviors) through facilitation of active learning techniques rather than attempting to push information through lectures, which are not effective.

Rather than spending time in class informing students, we can shift that information into a pre-lesson for students to complete before class time, and then we can spend time in class working on higher level skills, like research topic formulation, keyword brainstorming, and broadening or narrowing searches. Real research skills. Or we can do a minimum of informing and then have students work through the research process, which is what I’ve been doing this semester, and position the LibGuide as a resource for students to pull information as needed.

Inspiration from a Regional Conference

I went to a wonderful local conference a few weeks ago, SCIL Works, put on by the Southern California Instruction Librarians interest group. A group from Cal State San Marcos presented on their information literacy lesson. Their students weren’t given the option to search with their own topics. They were assigned topics. Students were taught the nuts and bolts of performing research with hands-on activities (through Guide on the Side), and told that they would merely have to repeat the process with their own topics. The librarians didn’t provide instruction on how to search Academic Search Premier – they let students figure it out on their own.

I was inspired! Since I’m a new librarian, I’ve been cautious about deviating from the traditional library one-shot until I was really familiar with my new library’s culture. But by my eighth class this semester, my lesson plan included about ten minutes of “informing” through class discussion, a YouTube video, and lecturing, then a class activity where I have students pair off and work through online tutorials I developed with Guide on the Side and Articulate Storyline. The LibGuide I develop for each class is basically a simple LMS (learning management system) – it serves as the platform for my (brief) presentation, for the class activity, and as an information and research resource for students to return to for the rest of the semester.

So What Does All This Have to Do with Scaling?

Everything I develop for a given class I intend to reuse. I start by not creating anything new at all if I can help it. I scour the web for YouTube videos and learning objects from places like PRIMO and MERLOT. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of good stuff out there that I can use instantly, because of either poor quality, content that only relates to originating institution, or lack of ability to customize. Lucky for me I have Camtasia to make videos, a shiny new copy of Articulate Storyline 2 for interactive tutorials, and a half-installed version of Guide on the Side for quick-to-program activities (the email/quiz feature at the end isn’t functional yet).

As a new Instructional Design Librarian I’m still in the planning/brainstorming phase for library instructional initiatives, but I’m going to help my university library scale up our instruction by developing (and collecting) online tutorials on basic library research skills (and organizing them with useful metadata/learning objectives). I’m plotting to collaboratively design our own badges program to allow instructors to assign research skills modules as they see fit. I’m working on a proposal for ACRL Assessment in Action (AiA) to embed a librarian into an online class to discover best practices for reaching more online-only students. What I’m most excited about is developing campus relationships to tell everyone about what we do at the library, because scaling up can’t happen without faculty taking advantage (ACRL AiA is great for promoting campus relationships).

Enabling Colleagues to Scale Too

Unfortunately I’m the only instructional designer at my library and I have to be careful I don’t take on more than I can handle (still working on this)! I am an Instructional Design Librarian, not just an instructional designer. Some libraries have instructional designers on staff that work with librarians to create whatever they can dream up. At first, I thought I might somewhat fill that role, but because I’m tenure-track, and have instruction and reference duties, and have assigned liaison departments, I don’t have time to fulfill a lot of design requests from colleagues. I have to prioritize my time and my projects.

So I’m planning an inaugural instructional design/technology workshop for librarians, complete with our own internal Instructional Design Toolkit (LibGuide), which I’m still working on but was inspired to complete by Berkeley College (big thanks again to Amanda Piekart for sharing her Toolkit with me)! I want to partner with colleagues to teach them instructional design and development skills, and to empower them to create whatever they dream up. I’m hoping that I will inspire librarians here to scale themselves up, too – by designing or recording their own learning objects that they can reuse again and again, and share with campus faculty. Design and development is a lot of work, but it pays off by having existing templates for reuse. Whatever we create will be repurposable into online courses and into a badges system – learning object development pays off in the long run!

Author: Lindsay O'Neill

I'm a shiny new Instructional Design Librarian at California State University, Fullerton. I'm a bike commuter, triathlete and compulsive reader trying to figure out this whole tenure-track librarian thing. Tweet me: I'm @lindsayontherun.

2 thoughts on “The Key Word is Scalability”

  1. Hi Lindsay,
    I thought you might be interested in the model we’ve been using at UW-Milwaukee Libraries for scalable instruction as our situation is very similar, although it sounds like you might have more staff than us.
    As the instruction coordinator, I have also worked with our instructional designer to develop in-house training to address the need to shift our pedagogy and improve student learning. If you will be at ACRL you should consider attending our workshop as it will be a great opportunity for you to plan and build your workshop.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Thanks, Kate, for sharing your work! We’re at the very ground level, which is bad because I have so much developing to do, but good because I can design systematically. It’s great to see what other libraries are doing!

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