Category Archives: instruction

Ah, Futility!

So I’m only going to be working at my current job as a librarian for another 4 weeks. Today one of the reference librarians at the desk detected evidence that an instructor for the program I’m responsible for has unleashed students on the library with a poorly-designed library scavenger hunt. It seems like a rather ironic way to close the instruction librarian chapter of my career.

Also, even though I went to the web site and unsubscribed (after never subscribing in the first place) Ladies’ Home Journal showed up at my house again. Now I really do think that there is a sinister marital industrial complex.

New Words and Workstation Lockdown

Library 2.0, the New Coke? In this discussion about Library 2.0 and branding, satirical or not, I want to point to one of Bruce Sterling’s talks about the naming of things and his new word spime. Worth a read, if you haven’t seen it already.

There’s an interesting discussion going on about the use of software to control student computers in the comments section of this post on Information Literacy and Instruction at Information Wants to be Free. I’ve taught both with and without that type of software, and I was happy when we reconfigured the classroom where I work to allow me the option to choose if I wanted to lock student workstations during a presentation or not. Originally we just had software that would broadcast what was happening on the instructor’s screen to the student workstations. We didn’t have a projector and screen in the room, so using the software was my only option if I wanted to demonstrate any of the library databases. Since I have the option of using a projector now, I only tend to use the lockdown software at the beginning of class. I don’t care if students surf the web if they come to the library a couple minutes early, so taking over the students computers is a quick way of focusing attention and announcing that class is going to start. Then I’ll tend to point out a few features on the library web page and then release the computers when I start to show students the library databases. I like to incorporate as much hands-on time as possible in my library classes, so mostly I prefer to use the projector so students can follow along with what I’m doing or try their own searches. There’s enough room that I can walk around to see what students are doing, and I don’t need to take over the computers to keep people on task. I can see how the lockdown software would come in handy if your classroom is configured in a way that makes it very difficult to walk around, or if you need to do more of a straight lecture with less hands-on time. I like having both options.

library videos

I wonder about using videos on library web sites. Many libraries have video virtual tours, but I’m not sure if they ever help anyone find their way in the library. I don’t think that using videos for library instruction works all that well, although I do like the idea of using screencasts that show an animated search in a library database. I haven’t developed many screencasts, although I do have Macromedia Captivate, and I’ve used it for some very short tutorials.

I’m not sure what purpose tutorials like this serve. Although it is always nifty to see libraries experimenting with technology on their web site, I’m not too crazy about the content of the videos. There are a couple amusing bits (like the professor appearing in a cloud), but most of it looks like a skit that someone might act out to show future librarians how NOT to do a reference interview. This video triggered one of my big pet peeves – if you give your library catalog a cute nickname and joke about how people can’t understand the cute nickname, why not just drop the nickname already?! The most informative parts of the videos were the animations of how to use the library web site, and the image was too small to actually see any of the search examples.

library instruction by the numbers

I tend to add up my stats when I don’t think I’m going to get many more library instruction requests. Things are going to start to wind down a little bit after this week. Today was my last time having to teach three classes in one day, from now on I’m only scheduled for one or two classes at a time.
I just schedule all the classes for freshmen students, so that includes sessions of introductory composition and a few freshmen seminars. This semester I scheduled 56 sections of composition and 16 seminar courses, so at my library we had 72 total freshmen instruction sessions scheduled so far. I’m teaching 53 of these classes, and other librarians are teaching the rest. I think that 50 classes a semester is a little on the high side but still manageable. I remember someone posting a question about average number of classes taught to the ILI-L list and the responses ranged all over the place, from 15-60. I think it really depends on the amount of preparation required for each class and the type of classes you’re teaching.

Hell Week

Following the tradition of pranks on Halloween, I realized on Monday that I’d managed to trick myself when I added up the number of classes I was teaching this week and figured out that I was teaching 14 classes. That’s a bit too much! There’s no way I could teach that many classes if I was working with upper level undergraduate or graduate classes, but at this point in the semester I just need to take a few minutes to find some search examples and I’m prepared to teach a basic introduction to the library for freshmen. I taught 4 classes yesterday and 4 classes today. For the rest of the week, I’m teaching 2 classes every day. I can’t wait for this week to be over, because everything will start to taper off and I’ll start to have a more normal work schedule. At least I have some leftover halloween candy, so I can get bursts of energy from sugar.

I just need 50 minutes!

I’d been hearing rumors about a horde of composition students with a tricky assignment descending on the reference desk. I ended up helping three of them last night, and boy did they need help – their instructor hadn’t scheduled a library visit and their assignment directed them to find scholarly articles related to a particular type of movie. They all were looking for articles about a specific movie, not a director or a theme expressed in film. It was tough to find any scholarly articles about the movies they picked, and I tried multiple databases that might have any amount of pop culture or film studies articles. It was really frustrating, both for me and the students, because the constraints of the assignment were making it difficult to find any usable articles for journals we actually had in the library. By the time the students came to the desk for help they’d already been searching on their own without much luck.
One of them asked “Are there classes we can go to where we can learn all this library searching stuff?”
And I said “Yes, and I usually schedule and teach them, but I don’t think your professor has contacted me.”
The other student said “He should really bring us into the library for one of those classes!”

This was the point where I wanted to slam my head into the reference desk :)

I’m going to try to send a diplomatic e-mail to the professor to encourage him to schedule his classes for next semester, it might already be too late for these students because their paper is due very soon.

Semester long information literacy courses get emphasized a bunch in the library literature, but this was a case where a quick fifty minute session earlier this semester would have helped the students make better use of the library, with enough time for everyone to be able to get articles from interlibrary loan.

student feedback

Sometimes I’m surprised by the feedback that I’ll get from my classes. We don’t have a very sophisticated assessment program where I work, but we do have an online form that asks the classic couple of questions “What did you learn today?” and “Do you find anything confusing?” I don’t tend to invest this type of feedback with much meaning, but it can still be useful sometimes. Even though it is fairly rare for a student to post anything negative, I can use the answers to those questions to see how aspects of my presentation went – if a student writes that they aren’t sure how to find books in the library or if several students write that they have difficulty finding the full text of a journal article when given only a citation, I know that is one area I’m going to have to repeat or try to emphasize further.

I taught a class this week that I was expecting to be very painful, because when I talked to a few of the students who came in early it was clear that they hadn’t gotten their research paper assignments yet and they didn’t know that they were all going to be asked to write about a specific topic. This is not a good scenario for the introduction to research workshops that I do, because it is so much easier to connect with a class if they are actually ready to start working on their assignment. But I went through my usual session, using their future assignment topic for all my search examples. I actually spent more time explaining a few things, because I thought that they might not be able to take full advantage of tons of hands-on time.

A few students asked questions, but there were also a bunch that didn’t look very engaged (and I don’t blame them, I would be less than engaged if I was in their places, having a library session without the context of an assignment). I was surprised when I got the student feedback from this class, because there were a bunch of comments that my presentation was “clear and concise” and one person said that they were not expecting the library visit to be useful but they ended up learning a lot. So if nothing else, the feedback served as a bit of a boost after teaching a class I was not feeling very postive about.

summer teaching

Usually in the summer I have almost no classes. I tend to try to update online library instuction stuff and plan ahead for next year. The type of classes that I tend to work with over the summer tend to be outside students enrolled in special summer classes. Earlier I taught three classes for students enrolled in an intensive English program, and today I worked with a group of high school kids. The kids were great, their instructors had blocked out two hours for a library visit and the students were able to have plenty of time to explore their topics and locate articles. Since they were all working on fairly short papers with developed but still general topics I didn’t spend too much time on showing them how to track down print journals in the library. We talked about the difference between using search engines and article databases for research, and I showed them how to search Expanded Academic. Since there was so much time set aside for the class, many of the students also looked up books and we were able to go to the stacks in groups to locate them.

cousins, text, and info lit pit

Meeting Dave Sim’s cousin {via}

Comics for this week, Flight 2 comes out and I am ashamed to admit that my copy of Flight 1 vanished when I was on an apartment cleaning binge and I haven’t read it yet :(

Texts in Context {via}

Notes from Google Scholar blog on ACRL
. I can see why the Information Literacy pendulum is swinging. I’m not saying that teaching people how to use the library isn’t a Good Thing (it is my job after all), but sometimes ‘Information Literacy’ seems more like a misguided branding effort that only librarians understand as opposed to something substantive. Why aren’t we also doing cool interface design while we are teaching hard to use research tools?

Ask Tangognat: information literacy and faculty collaboration

Meredith Wrote:

I read your last post about all of the classes you taught last semester (zoinks!) which now has disappeared.

Yeah, I pulled that post because I was worried that it was a little whiny, and when I redid my stats this morning after a good night’s sleep I realized my numbers were off slightly. My course load wasn’t quite as dire as I originally thought even though it felt pretty bad at the time :P

I wanted to ask about the type of classes you’re teaching. Are they mostly general library workshops (using databases, distinguishing quality sources, etc) or are they course-based, assignment-based, etc?

They sort of fall between the two. I teach a couple classes that are drop-in workshops, but the bulk of my classes are for first year students who are working on a research paper assignment. Some of the assignments are very general (write an argumentative paper about a current controversial issue) and some of the assignments are more subject specific (gender issues, examining popular culture, etc ). These library workshops are scheduled individually by instructors who choose to bring their classes into the library. The content of these courses is usually very basic, covering topics like using the library’s web site, basic boolean searching, how to find a journal article in the library, etc. Even though the library content is basic, it usually isn’t so basic for the students, many of whom haven’t really used an article database for research before.

I’ve read so many studies that say course-based or assignment-based info literacy instruction (preferably with the cooperation of the professor) is more effective, but I don’t really know how many schools are really doing that. I certainly never took a class that involved any library instruction in my life. How open are faculty to collaboration in info literacy instruction?

I guess it depends on what you mean by collaboration – if collaboration is bringing a class in for a library session when the students have a research assignment, I think faculty are open to that. I think that in general it might take something extra for someone to get to the stage where they think of sharing more information with the librarian as part of a discussion or consulting with the librarian about assignment design. I’ve been working on a cool tutorial project that involves a great deal of faculty collaboration, but we had some grant money to compensate everyone for the extra work involved and that really kick-started the process. I think that my work with faculty and instructors is a little atypical of most academic librarians because I mainly work with students in basic composition classes. So there isn’t as much of a specialized subject hook to what I do, and while there are some instructors that I see every year, there is also a rotating cast of phd students teaching these classes who I work with as well.

For my upcomming job interview, I’m doing a presentation on faculty-library collaboration for information literacy instruction and collection development, so I’d love to actually get some input from someone who does instruction. Thanks!

I think the best way to develop collaboration and a working relationship with faculty is to work with them on library collection issues and library instruction at the same time. If the librarian has specialized subject knowledge and might be consulted for issues involving faculty research and collection development, I think it might be easier to have a library instruction component that is integrated into a class. Some of my colleagues who have subject specialties do offer workshops that I think might be more closely integrated into a class than some of the things I do, but part of that is also due to the demands of upper level undergraduate research as opposed to the more basic stuff that I cover.

I think the biggest thing that I end up having to worry about when I prepare for my classes is how much the instructor has done to prepare their classes for library instruction. I always ask instructors that before the class comes to the library, students will know what their research paper assignment is and also have topic ideas because even if the topic idea is very broad, we can work on narrowing it down during class. In practice this ends up varying greatly, I have some instructors that e-mail me a list of detailed student thesis statements which I can use when preparing to teach. This is great because students are much more likely to pay attention and make connections about what is going on when I’m showing them how to research using their own topics. When I’m working with a class that doesn’t really understand their research paper assignment and they have no idea what they want to research I always end up feeling that the library visit wasn’t as effective as it could be. And then there are the classes that people schedule the week before spring break, when the students are mentally already in Mexico or whatever, and there isn’t much you can do to grab their attention…..