On February 24, 2012, the Instructor College hosted a cross-campus library speed-networking event in the Hatcher Gallery, where participants shared their ideas about instruction with their colleagues.
In this event, participants sat across from each other in long rows and exchanged in five minute conversations. There were three separate rounds addressing the following questions, with comments shared broadly between each round:
What are some of your favorite instruction strategies and/or exercises?
- An instructor at the Taubman Health Sciences Library works with medical students to answer relative questions and has the faculty member provide context via an example
- An instructor in Research modifies her lesson plan after teaching based on interactions with students
- An instructor in Learning and Teaching teaches faculty how to make better use of CTools – encouraging faculty to see CTools as students would
- Before an instruction session, an instructor in Research sends out a survey to assess how she can round out her lesson plan; she posts answers to the survey at the beginning of the session so students can see that others in their class have the same issues
What are some of the ways you have worked with faculty to integrate the library into their classes?
- An instructor at the Taubman Health Sciences Library is on the curriculum committee at the School of Dentistry – which enables him to see how faculty need to incorporate instruction into their classes
- Instruction should happen at all levels, instruction is not just about the faculty’s instruction of students; it should include GSI’s, community and faculty
What do you see as the biggest instructional challenge that you face?
- Time (time to prepare, time to talk to students during instruction)
- Keeping students engaged
- Having to keep up with resources
- Showing faculty how to use Google scholar – there’s a bit of tension there because faculty want to show students how to use other resources, when the instructor knows there are good things to show about Google scholar
- Accessibility issues – considerations for accessibility
In case you missed it, the Instructor College Steering Committee sponsored an event in December providing an opportunity for library staff to meet with their colleagues and share ideas about instruction. The format of the event was simply designed, providing a casual environment where staff participated in ‘speed sharing,’ listened to three lightening talks, and had the opportunity to share their thoughts in one of three discussion sections. We had twenty-eight participants from all over the library, including DSS, Special Collections, MPublishing, UGL, Grad Reference, Area Programs, Technical Services, the Health Sciences Library, and the Clark Library.
To start the event off participants engaged in three rounds of speed sharing, a spin off of speed dating. All attendees were separated into two separate groups, Maize or Blue, and then asked to sit across from someone not in their group, and preferably someone they did not know. We asked each participant to share with their partners in four minute rotations ‘what was their most effective instruction session from the past semester, and why was it so effective?’ At the end of each round, participants from the Maize group moved one space to the left. The result of such a rapid ice breaker? The majority of our participants agreed they met someone they did not previously know and about half of them indicated that they wanted to follow up with someone they spoke with. We were also fortunate to see some of the tools instructors have created:
Following a quick wrap up of the speed sharing, we got right into the lightning talks. First up, Whitney Townsend, a Liaison Librarian with the Health Sciences Library. Whitney provided an overview of her application of active learning techniques in instruction sessions. She described active learning as a session where students learn how to use library resources in their own subject area, rather than participating in standalone sessions. In this way students learn to use library resources to tackle one of their own existing problem sets. She also mentioned that active learning is a great way to involve faculty; librarians at the Health Sciences Library team teach with faculty in a single two hour session.
Scott Dennis, the Humanities Librarian and Coordinator, Core Electronic Resources, at the Graduate Library, followed Whitney, demonstrating how he teaches with databases. His key piece of advice for instructors was to create sessions based on the restraints including time, location, and support. Secondly, he expressed that instructors have to think about and do what the students will attempt to do first, then show what resources the Library has and how they function to serve better results than a simple Google search. He also suggested that instructors should provide direct links to databases tailored to each session, in order to ease the find-ability and to encourage use. Finally, he mentioned the need to use real examples, offering to help someone in the class with their research will yield greater participation.
Phil Hallman, the field librarian for the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures, closed out the lightening talks with his approach to designing sessions. Phil indicated that instructors should create their sessions based on the needs of the faculty. As an example, Phil shared that he designed a session for one faculty member who wanted to teach his students how to use microfilm. Phil created a two-part session, where students attended a screening of a classic film, then in a separate session learned to use the older medium, microfilm, to create a commentary of the film. Initially there was student resistance to using the older medium, but slowly students began to broaden their search techniques and developed better research questions.
We concluded the event with three separate discussion sections, focused on the three topics of the lightening talks. Participants were encouraged to join one of three tables and share their thoughts and own experiences with active learning, teaching with technology and designing sessions. Here are some images we captured from our discussions:
|Teaching with Technology|
If you were unable to attend our event, walk through the interactive tutorial to navigate the news here, find a video for the lightning talks and see how one instructor created a table to enable her students to find evidence based answers here(authentication required).
We would like to introduce to you the members of the 2011/2012 Instructor College Steering Committee
We look forward to crafting meaningful programs and services to support instructors in the UM Libraries. Please feel free to share your ideas here on the blog or contact us.
Jeffrey Cordell is Instructional Pedagogy Librarian in the Undergraduate Library. As part of the Assessment Working Group, he has helped to roll out the new evaluation forms being used to assess teaching across the library.
Using Assessment to Build Instruction Strategy
Over the past two years, the library has designed a set of evaluation forms for instruction sessions; over the course of fall semester, we generated reports on those evaluations for each instructor. At a workshop in late February, individual reports were given out and discussed. I want to give a sense of what we talked about in that meeting and to share some thoughts about evaluations and their uses for teaching.
If you weren’t able to attend the workshop and would like a copy of your report, contact Jen Green at email@example.com and ask for one. As you look over your report, it’s important to remember that while it can tell you much about your teaching, it is not a core sample of who you are as a teacher. Anytime we represent the experience of teaching and learning numerically, we engage in a kind of fiction or wishful thinking that says that we can capture experience quantitatively—that what happens in the classroom can be anything like adequately expressed through numbers. It would be nice to think so, because it would mean that the experience of one classroom could be replicated exactly in another, as if all instructors with a 4.5 were doing exactly the same thing. Rather, the kinds of numbers we see on course evaluation forms are rough approximations of the experience of being a student and inevitably do little to convey the rich complexity of what happens in the classroom, where each instructor works from his or her distinct, incommensurable qualities as a teacher.
Because they are such crude tools, course evaluations can sometimes seem to measure only the entertainment value of a class. However, I do think they measure something useful, and that something is how students feel about their experience in the classroom. At first glance, “feelings” may seem too subjective, even irrelevant to the process of finding information, to bother measuring. After all, learning is not about feelings; it’s about acquiring information. But learning is always bound up with one’s emotions, and, as Plato told us long ago, learning at its best matches the thrill of falling in love, and is, indeed, indistinguishable from it. When we truly grasp an idea, we feel it lodge in ourselves, and that always carries with it change, change in our perceptions and, therefore, in who we are. More pragmatically, there is a sense in which learning becomes more readily available to our consciousness when we’re aware that we are learning. So, the use of course evaluations comes in part from the measure, however tentative and approximate, of students’ perception of their learning in a class. While course evaluations cannot do the work of systematic assessment of skills (for that, we need tests), they can suggest to us, however crudely, how students perceive their experience in the classroom and whether they find that experience valuable.
The reports that the library has generated also help us, as instructors, to get a fuller sense of how our teaching fits into the larger mission of the library. The reports present your numbers against the mean for all the responses from a given evaluation form (that is, when you look at your report, you can see whether your numbers are higher, lower, or similar to the library mean for that report, be it “intro,” “advanced,” etc). That, in turn, can give you a sense of what, in your classes, students seem to appreciate and where you might want to focus your attention as you revise your teaching techniques and in-class exercises. Often, it’s not even so much a matter of changing how you teach as it is explicitly underscoring for students what it is they’re learning. An interactive in-class exercise may not be perceived as interactive by your students until you say that it is. Additionally, the evaluation forms give a sense of what we, as instructors at the library, value and hope to achieve. On that level, these reports are part of an ongoing conversation that may take in questions such as: what do we consider successful numbers at the library? How do we want to use them (for example, they could be used as part of teaching portfolios)? What kinds of institutional support would we like to have available to instructors who find things they want to change in their teaching based on these reports? And so forth.
I have had many years experience in reading and using course evaluations, but, being new to the world of the library, am curious to hear your opinions of the new evaluations and reports, and to hear your ideas about how you are going to use the information they give us.
On Thursday, March 17th, 2011, the Instructor College sponsored an informal panel discussion with three librarians — Gabriel Duque, Rebecca Hill, and Karen Reiman-Sendi — and Chad Hershock, an assistant director from the UM Center for Research on Learning and Teaching CRLT about the use of iClickers in library instruction. Many of Chad’s recommendations were included in CRLT Occasional Paper No. 22: Teaching with Clickers, a white paper that includes information on student/faculty attitudes toward clickers, best practices and challenges. The information below summarizes the workshop conversation about question design, challenges that librarians have faced and advice librarians can offer.
- Include “I don’t know” as a question option. You don’t want the students to guess the answer. You want to know whether they know the answer.
- You could ask, “Have you had a library session before?” to get a sense of where to start the session. You could also ask if they had used Mirlyn or what databases they had used. You could also ask questions that are more task-based (“Have you ever checked out a book?”) instead of tool-based (“Have you ever used Mirlyn?”) to get a sense of what they have and haven’t done with library resources.
- After showing students a new procedure or process, you might ask them if it would be helpful to show another example to give you a sense of whether it would be okay to move on with the lesson.
- Asking international students where they are from with the clickers is a good ice breaker.
- It is easy to revise a question in “real time.”
- Ask students for their favorite movie (give them some choices) and then show them how to look it up in Mirlyn.
- Students don’t need a toy in class. Use the clickers and design the questions with a purpose.
- Decide ahead of time the percentage of students you need to get the question correct. Will it be okay with you if some students get the question incorrect and you still have to move on? How will you manage these situations?
- Using the clickers and prepping by creating slides can add time to your instructional load. Consider if there is something that you can use repeatedly. Manage in-class discussion of clicker answers appropriately. If you are co-teaching, have one instructor manage the mechanics of the clicker software during the class while another facilitates the discussion. Sometimes a student can help.
- Sometimes the batteries run out of power. There should be extra batteries in the boxes. If not or if you use the last ones, please notify Donna McCauley after class. Many times there are more clickers than students so you can easily exchange one clicker for another.
- Use the instructor remote to advance slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Using the keyboard in conjunction with the remote can sometimes cause the PowerPoint to freeze.
- Try it once and see what happens.
- Set up class session ahead of time.
- Make sure the PIN number is in the Instructor remote.
- Remember that students liked to play with clickers so stop the voting before you show the graph if you don’t want students to change their answers.
- A bar graph is very easy for the students to read.
- Most undergraduates are familiar with clickers so you don’t have to explain how to use them.
- Think about your teaching style to determine how this tool can help you. Do you need to break up lecturing? Do you often call on students in class? How do they respond now when you ask a question?
- Grad students seem eager to talk in class. Undergrads may be less enthusiastic so this tool may help with participation.
- It may be difficult to use clickers with hands-on technology classes because students may have to move from one physical piece of technology to another which may feel awkward.
- There are other online polling tools out there that are free and web- or mobile-based. You may want to try them.
- Clickers are not a magic tool. The focus of the class will still be on you.
- Share the data you collect with the faculty member or GSI.
On April 11, Karen Reiman-Sendi led an Instructor College-sponsored brown bag discussion of using web-based guides in instruction, touching on the research literature surrounding the use of guides and our local data about patron use of guides. The slide presentation from the event is available. Attendees collaboratively developed the following best practice statements:
Best Practices for Course-Related and Workshop-Related Guides (April 2011)
- Use a course-related/workshop-related guide:
- to solve a specific problem/to accomplish a task or assignment
- to provide easy accessibility to needed information
- as an opportunity to work with a faculty member
- Think about logical organization of material to meet needs of your audience and the identified educational outcomes
- Avoid too much text – extraneous information is awful – and keep a balance between content and white space
- Include some visual interest appropriate to the purpose of the guide (but don’t rely on color to do this)
- Use screencasts or screenshots appropriate to the task at hand, to illustrate points, strategies, concepts, etc. (See MLibrary Instructional Videos guide)
- Avoid using too many tabs (“pages”) but do use tabs to help define “modules” or sections of the guide
- Help students choose the appropriate resources, information, strategies, etc. by using smaller box content, by using headings within boxes, by providing some “navigation” within and between your tabs (“pages”)
- Provide not just a list of appropriate resources for a specific assignment, but include strategies for understanding the assignment/for completing the assignment, based on your educational goals/outcomes for the guide
- Keep in mind that guides will be viewed on mobile devices and by individuals with visual challenges (accessibility)
- Take care in using drop-down menus in tabs (“pages”) because these areas may be difficult to see or to navigate
- Wherever possible collaborate with colleagues on guide creation to eliminate unnecessary duplication
- Provide uploaded files of your instructional slides and handouts, as appropriate
- Keep the guide up to date and/or take it “offline” when no longer needed
- When providing a list of resources, include short annotations to help students choose
Provide links to related guides where appropriate
- Provide a link to the course/workshop/session evaluation
- Include your profile box on the first tab (“page”) of guide as well as the Ask a Librarian contact box
- Background of guide must be white
- Title of course guide should be the course catalog label, e.g. AMCULT 209: History of American Popular Music
- Guide description should include the purpose of the guide, and ideally the name of the instructor and academic term, e.g. Key information resources and services for completing the honor’s thesis. Prof. John Doe. Winter 2011.
- Instructor profile must appear on “home” tab/page in right column. The profile box can be labeled “Library Contact” or “Library Instructor” or “Workshop Instructor” etc.
- “Library Help” box appears below the instructor profile box and contact information
- Tabs/pages will vary from course to course but might include “Introduction,” “Your Assignment,” “Finding Articles,” “Finding Data,” “How to [do something],” “Citation Styles,” etc.
- When published, include the “course_guide” or “technology_guide” tag
- Set guide to “private” at the end of the current term if the content will not be taught in the following term
Sue Wortman, Social Work Librarian at the Hatcher Graduate Library, recently discovered a TED talk of interest to instructors. Sue has graciously accepted the invitation of the Instructor College Steering Committee to create a guest post for the Instructor College blog. We hope that the post will open a conversation here on the blog. We invite you to share your thoughts and reactions.
Back in December I sent around a link to a TED talk by Diana Laufenberg called “How to learn? From mistakes,” thinking it had a number of things for librarian instructors to consider. Ms. Laufenberg is an energetic and inspiring young public school teacher who described her experiences teaching both high school and middle school students. Her teaching experiences have included working at a rural Kansas high school, an Arizona middle school and most recently she teaches at the Science Leadership Academy, a school sponsored by the Philadelphia Public Schools and the Franklin Institute for students in grades 9-12.
Designing Experiential Learning
In this TED talk which lasts barely ten minutes Diana Laufenberg gives three concrete examples of assignments she gave students at her three different schools. The assignments demonstrate beautifully the use of experiential learning, or what she calls an “authentic experience.” For one assignment in a high school government class Laufenberg required her students to put on an election forum for their community. Another assignment involved middle school geography students creating their own short movies, explaining what they intended to do with their lives to bring about positive change. In the third assignment students developed informative graphic posters which explained some natural disaster which took place in history. As part of this last assignment students critiqued each other’s posters, discussing both the positive and the negative.
Each of these assignments stretched students. Laufenberg expected a lot from her students and they didn’t fail her. She didn’t spoon-feed students, or teach to standardized tests. She gave them an experience and then stepped back to take the part of mentor, counselor or facilitator to guide them. She mentioned that more experienced teachers thought she was being too idealistic and implied that they thought she’d soon become jaded toward the students’ abilities, like they were. It takes courage to get out of your comfort zone and try something different. That goes for teachers as well as students. Sir Ken Robinson, in one of the most viewed TED talks ever states this succinctly when he says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original.”
Prepared to Fail?
I think this quote gets to the very heart of learning. When we teach students about the library are we prepared to let them fail in order to let them learn? What might that look like? I don’t have the answer to this but I would welcome discussion. And it’s not just students who learn by failing. Teachers, librarian teachers also need to be prepared to fail.
In the past, library sessions were lectures or demonstration, not workshops. Authors Brooks-Harris and Stock-Ward provide a great definition of what a workshop is in their book Workshops: designing and facilitating experiential learning.
A workshop is a short-term learning experience that encourages active, experiential learning and uses a variety of learning activities to meet the needs of diverse learners. [Page 6]
Do the one-shot library instruction workshops we offer conform to this definition? It’s very hard in the short time we have with students to create a workshop which encourages active, experiential learning and by trying sometimes we may fail in our attempts.
Outside of the Comfort Zone
Last week I tried involving MSW level students in a discussion about formulating a search. I was trying to explain the process of coming up with a research question and then deciding where to search for articles and which search terms to use. I used the recent example of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s’ shooting to suggest I was trying to formulate a research question. I wasn’t specific but I said I wanted to see if I could find articles which connected extreme political views and the lack of civility with violence in democracy in the U.S. I was purposely vague about the question and asked for suggestions for making it clearer. In other sessions where I’ve tried to teach students about searching I primarily went with the “canned search.” I knew which database and exactly which terms to use to get the best results. No chance of failure on my part there. This was different. There was more buy-in when students worked together to come up with the question they wanted to answer as well as the search terms to use.
We dissected the question into major topics and I listed possible search terms on the board as I normally do but even when the class was letting out I overheard students telling each other which search terms worked best for them: “I found that using (left and right) instead of (left wing and right wing) worked better.”
Teaching vs. Facilitating
I see the connection between this class and Diana Laufenberg’s classes. I wasn’t so much teaching as facilitating. This is another important concept covered by Brooks-Harris and Stock-Ward in their book mentioned above. Being a facilitator is a much more active role than being an instructor or teacher. This may be a real paradigm shift for most of us. The facilitator role leads to experiential learning, according to these authors. Failure and experience go hand in hand. I got a great quote from my niece this week on Facebook, “Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first and the lessons afterwards.” Vernon Law, a pitcher for the Pirates back in the 1950s said that.
More Food for Thought
If you’re interested in reading more from Brooks-Harris and Stock-Ward’s book and can’t get to it from the library (I have it!) you can see most of the first chapter on Google Books.
Here’s another good quote, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” – John Dewey
Thanks, again, to Sue for this thought-provoking post. Now, tell us what you think. As a library instructor, do you give your students the opportunity to learn from failure? What experience do you have facilitating experiential learning? What are your thoughts or concerns about this model of teaching and learning?