Metrolina Library Association 2015 Conference

I go to the MLA 2015 Conference every year because it’s a good little conference that attracts from all over the world, though mostly the North & South Carolina and Virginia area. Yours truly did a poster last year and this year did a presentation/discussion. I have presented at conferences before, but this was my first solo gig.

In my quest for eccentricity, I titled the presentation, Devil’s Advocate: Release Your Inner Critic. The idea was to suggest concerns about the library world (I started off with 6) and discuss them in groups to explore and hopefully find improvements, alternatives, or just a better awareness of what we are doing in our jobs. Ultimately, I was hoping for some catharsis, but I don’t think we got quite that far. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time to discuss. The room was full and as I went through, I saw a lot of nodding heads, so at least I know I’m not alone in my thinking. There were several suggestions from the audience, none of which I saw coming, and the ones I thought might, didn’t (no ACRL’s Frameworks or lack of pedagogy instruction in library school).

Below is a copy of my presentation. I handed out slips of paper with prompts hoping to get notes back from the groups to compile into my PowerPoint. I also included my notes/explanations since I use pictures more than words and PPts with pictures and no person talking rarely makes sense. To read my notes, click the little comment bubble in the pdf.

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Devil’s Advocate online

The keynote speaker, Jim Carmichael from UNC: Greensboro, did a historical review of librarians who stuck their neck out and made a fuss for a good cause. It was clever, but since I was presenting right after, I’m afraid I was more focused on me.

Mak(ing) Space: Perspectives from a Small Rural Academic Library explored simple and cheap ways to get students into the library for some stress relief and community building without requiring a lot of money, staff, or space. Apparently they don’t have a Student Life center, so they took on the role and sponsored events for students. One key point is that they only did one event a semester. Plus, they scheduled the event in the middle of the semester, where we tend to wait till the end (finals stress relief) which is too late to attract students to the library.

Color with Creativity: Designing Staff Development With Limited Resources was a workshop in the afternoon, spanning the last two sessions. Given my lack of supervisory skills, I figured it couldn’t hurt to go. I left with two pointers. Like the IDE class, they had a process and even a worksheet for figuring out what is needed, how to design an event to fill that need, and also a way to assess if it was successful. I appreciate deliberate processes and fill in the blank prompts, so yay. Secondly, I learned that you really need to figure out what is the end goal. Otherwise, you are wasting your time, your employee’s time, and run the risk of annoying your employees. For instance, if the goal is to get people to work better together, design the event to explore and practice the needed skills. Don’t assume a team building exercise as metaphor (or several) will work (I see through these and find them trite). If the goal is to get people to like each other, you’re up a creek without a clue.

Warn yourself next time…

In all my lesson plans, I have space for a reflection. If something needs a tweak, it took longer than I thought, or I have an idea, I write a note on the lesson plan I printed out. (I time the segments so I can tell if I’m running out of time and need to adjust.) However, a few semesters ago, we started entering stats like number of students, how well we think the class went,  as well as reflections, in the faculty LI request form in LibAnalytics. Last semester I stopped copying my reflection into the lesson plan and it cost me recently when I taught a COM 231 class. I thought this instructor required her students have their topics by the LI class. I was wrong. I am now reminded why I kept up with those lesson plans so obsessively.

When I teach for an instructor again, I usually start with the lesson plan I used the previous semester – complete with the reflection that includes warnings I’ll need for the next time. So now I’ll remember to at least email the students before the LI class with a survey that asks for their topic, so they’ll have chosen one before the class. On a related note, I used the Developing Your Topic is Research video from NCSU. The good news is, when I asked the class what they learned, I got back some good answers. The problem is, it shouldn’t have to be used in a 2XX level course. This video would be better in COM 110, which, ideally, they should have taken before COM 231. Unfortunately, since only COM 231 transfers as a communication class (versus a general elective), more and more students are being advised to take COM 231, not COM 110. So, it is possible that students take COM 231 (no prerequisite) their first semester, even before taking any other class. Suffice to say, this makes scaffolding difficult.

IDE Final Project

I teach at a large, multi-campus community college in an urban area. Community college students run the gamut of age, experience, and ability. Some are here for a two year degree, while many are going to transfer to a four-year college. Some are returning students who have life experience but can not remember much from school. Some are eager to help their peers with technology, others tell me point blank, “I’ve never used a computer before.”

Most classes are in-person, 75 min. one-shot classes at one of the smaller branch campuses; usually intro English and Communication. I am also embedded in fully online classes as well. Either way, the purpose is to introduce students to research and using the library (many have never used a library for research). My overall goal for these classes is to get students to deliberately think about their topic before they start searching, so they have a better idea of what they want to learn/know. This goal help them have a strategy and better idea of what they need to find. I also want them to know the library exists for college level research and get them searching in a library database during class so when they come back to it later, they at least have seen it before.

I have three basic learning outcomes and one additional outcome for the introduction classes I teach (ENG 111 & COM 110). I want students to:

  • Brainstorm and focus their topics
  • Create keyword strategies (search strings)
  • Search at least one library database in class
  • Use the citation generator in library databases

I believe these objectives cover all students from those who have never completed a research assignment to those who have experience but not at a college level. I am sure there are a few students who learned this already, but a review is considered practice by cognitive scientists. I also believe these are the bare minimum skills needed to complete a research assignment.

As students fill out the worksheets I walk around the classroom to see how they are doing and give them feedback and suggestions. If I see a common issue or an interesting tidbit, I’ll announce it and explain it to the class. Another assessment measure is an exit ticket where they fill in their topic, keyword strategies, the database(s) they used, and a citation for a source they plan on using for their assignment. They can add their name if they want suggestions. Before they leave, I’ll collect the tickets. This exit ticket aligns with the outcomes by them writing down the keywords they developed from their topic, lists which database they used, and gives a sample citation showing whether they know about the citation generator (including if it was EasyBib).

I’ll use cognitive and behaviorist learning theories to support the outcomes. I use lots of pictures, videos, and diagrams like flow charts and mind maps to appeal visually and help make a concept easier to understand. Plus, pictures mean students are listening to me, not reading from the slide. I include videos to help explain a concept, so I’m not lecturing. The exit ticket is a behaviorist technique because they must stay on task and find a source in order to fill out the sheet (and thus, leave the classroom). By chunking the class into segments, there is a progression to follow and no long stretches for students to get bored. See the latest iteration of my lesson plan (still working on the PPt).

The tools I’ll need include worksheets, videos, and student computers. The videos help break the monotony of the class (and keep me from having to lecture). The worksheets and computers are active learning tools. Students work through their topics to create keyword strategies to use when searching a library database on their own.

The readings have been most enlightening. Part of getting into a new field is finding the right articles to start with, so a recommended reading list from a class simplifies things. I learned a deliberate process for planning a class, and being a bit organization crazed, I appreciate a process. I will always struggle with finding the right pieces. For instance, I find a lot of videos on YouTube to use in classes, but it is hard to find the perfect one. So unless I create the videos myself (no time), it can be tricky to fit them in the lesson plan. And trying to incorporate technology into a class which often has digital non-natives is difficult.

Reading others’ blogs have helped me in two ways. One, I get more ideas about techniques and activities. Two, I see other applications of the theories and concepts we have learned which helps me better understand the theories themselves. Since I like puzzles, I enjoy helping (commenting to) others with questions or problems with my ideas or thoughts. I found myself reading and commenting on these blogs:

Working with community college students, it is hard to work higher level and advanced skills and concepts into a class. Incorporating critical pedagogy when students have never used a library before and still think in black and white is not generally possible. I need to focus on the basic and introductory college library skills. However, sometimes there’s an adult student or that one student who is incredibly bright and asks questions that give you the opportunity to touch on concepts like critical pedagogy. I wonder, however, how many other pedagogies are out there, besides critical. I know of feminist, but that’s a similar technique to critical.

IDE Week 4 Technology and the Future

Since there is not much time but a lot to get done, I think simple is the best course of action. I try to incorporate at least one video into a class. I use different videos depending on the course because some students see me in more than one class and also, I try to scaffold and/or introduce new ideas and concepts in different courses.

I want to use LibSurveys again to get students’ topics and an idea of their abilities or struggles with research before we meet in class. Surveying is a general form of data-driven assessment – not personalized, but useful for proof of students’ struggles with research, either because they have never used a library before or they have never had a library class. I also plan to test a recall assessment quiz I created after reading Make it Stick. The idea is more a recall exercise for students (so they can see how much they remembered) and less an assessment for how much they learned (it can be used that way as well, but I do not ask for their names so it is more a general class assessment). On second thought, I think I will save that for ENG 112 classes – I would have to rewrite a few of the questions since they ask about thesis/research statements.

My primary reason for using videos in class is to break up the monotony; to have something different from me talking or the class filling out a worksheet, but also to get a concept across. When teaching keyword synonyms, I use the From Question to Keyword video. For the ENG 111 classes, I plan to use a PiL UW iSchool video about the struggles students have with research as an icebreaker, so they understand they aren’t alone in getting frustrated, and that research is difficult and not something to be taken lightly. The video is old, but still relevant. In the communication classes, I use the Research as Conversation from the UNC Writing Center. A little on the nose, but I try to use humor in my classes as well.

I am always looking for ways to improve my instruction. I would like to use technology to engage students, but I cannot use complicated technology because I spend too much time helping those 3-4 students who are not good with computers get set up. I have used clickers and see the merit if use properly – something I have not done and therefore do not use them anymore. I also do not like the idea of students using their phones to text responses at their expense – but maybe I need to get over that. For now, I will focus on improving my lesson plan and pedagogical techniques.

IDE Week 3 Learning Theories & Motiviation

Between Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivist theories, constructivist is the most problematic. Problem based learning appeals to me, but in a one-shot class, there isn’t enough time for large problem solving or several smaller problems.

I want students to be on task and complete the worksheet so they can find at least one source they can use in class. To that end, I’d use behaviorism to appeal to their desire not to do work on their own time. I tell them the more they get done in class, the less they have to do later. But to better reinforce that, I need to add a bit where they fill out a short sheet to hand me before they leave the classroom (topic, keywords, citation) – I’ve heard it called an exit ticket.

I do use some cognitive techniques in my classes. I use flow diagrams to explain the research process, sample mind maps, and chunk the class into smaller parts. I’d like to use a hook, but I’m not sure what it should be, much less how not to make it corny or too obvious.

Since I don’t know the students in the classes I teach, it’s hard to know what will motivate them individually, much less all of them. I don’t know a lot about what a student knows, their abilities, and their preferences for achievement, I only know that in general, there is a wide range of knowledge and abilities. I have to cast a wide net and hope I cover enough of them with something that motivates them.

One method is to make research relevant to the student. This method is why I want students to have chosen their topics before class, so they can develop and search their own topic in class. I just have to emphasize they pick a topic they are truly interested in.

I also try to reassure and warn students what they’ll face and tell them not to let it bother them. I tell them they will hit dead ends or have to tweak their topic before it’s done, but I also say that’s natural and part of research – they didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just the way research is.

Another method is explaining why we want them to learn new skills and advance the ones they have. This method is the one I want to develop. Saying things like:

  • The better your sources, the better your paper.
  • The more in depth your source, the more there is to respond to.
  • If you can learn to use a library database well, you can learn to search anything.

In my experience, students don’t really care about finding quality information (beyond the assignment requirements), they’re more focused on easy, familiar, and says-what-I-need; so explaining why they need to use library resources is ineffective. I do liken library database limiters to amazon’s left filters, but I wonder how many students actually use filters on websites.

IDE Week 2 Integration

So now it’s time to see if/how well the goals and outcomes from week 1 correspond to week 2’s assessment strategies.

Learning Goals Assessments Learning Activities Helpful Resources
Develop Topics

  • narrow a broad topic
  • create keywords
Developing a Topic worksheet

  • brainstorming bubbles
  • blanks for keywords
  • blanks for combining keywords into searches

*feedback given in class as students complete the worksheet

Students use the Developing a Topic worksheet to think through their topics and create the keywords they’ll use to search. Mind Mapping video from Joshua Vossler
Search a Library Database

  • use keyword strategies to find sources
  • use database limiters to refine results
  • find the citation generator
1. Search & Source worksheet

  • Name of database used
  • List of limiters used, if any
  • Space for at least 1 source the student plans to use (in citation format)

*feedback given in class as students complete the worksheet

2. Bibliography Rubric

*feedback given before final project when they submit an annotated bib.

Students search using at least one library database to find at least one source they will use for their assignment.  ProQuest Research Library

My two main goals are students developing a general topic into a manageable research topic and then being able to navigate (ie search) a library database or two.

Considering the students I teach, my teaching style, and the assignments and what instructors want, I think I’m on the way matching these with the goals, feedback, assessment, and learning activities. I’ve tried to keep the goals simple but practical. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking, “what is the minimum students would need to complete this assignment” and not go crazy with the minute detail – I save some of that for ENG 112. Some of the sub-goals are related, but too lofty and I need to pull them back. I’ve already been simplifying my lesson plan, but this exercise helps focus my reasoning and gives me a target.

I usually go around in class commenting and making suggestions on what I see students writing on their worksheets. While I don’t collect the worksheets, I can tell how well a student has thought about their topic by how much information they write. The worksheet is the activity, along with searching in class, but it doesn’t have a very fun vibe to it – just a work/practice feel. One day I may try to jazz it up a bit.

From experience I know some students just don’t bother doing the worksheet in class. If I think they are having trouble, I’ll walk them through it a little more, but if I see them on Facebook or general web searching, then I can’t waste my time when there are students trying who need my assistance. Another conflict comes from students who don’t know how to brainstorm or what information to put down. I’ve also noticed that students have a hard time picking keywords. They want to use words like effects or causes instead of choosing specific ones.

We know that many students think they already know how to search, but it’s maybe not so obvious that students think searching = research. I make a point that the two are not the same but rather, searching is a part of research – there’s more to research. I also try to help them realize that research is an “organic” process, there is no one right way to do it and there will be dead ends and/or tweaks as they go.

My worksheets (assessments) only help me see them develop their topics, it doesn’t provide me a clue about what sources they find. We are thinking of creating a rubric to evaluate final bibliographies and I’m going to work with three instructors on my campus to see if they are interested in requiring an annotated bibliography for one assignment (one already does). I like the idea of a pre-assignment before the final paper is turned in, so they can get feedback. A good rubric can help students assess their own performance – or at least see what they need to do more of after the fact. The trick is creating a clear rubric. Oh, and finding the time to evaluate all those assignments.

Originally, I had students create a thesis or research statement, but it was hard to get across to students in 5 minutes, so I’m taking that out and just having them create keywords from their brainstorm. I’m not requiring synonyms in ENG 111 anymore, either. Again, it eats up time and I’d rather have them searching. Not to mention, many students think all blanks must be filled, even when there really isn’t a synonym for a term.

IDE Week 2 Educative Assessment

Working backwards, starting with the outcomes, creating the assessment measures, you then create the activities that will help students accomplish the outcomes and complete the assessment measure successfully. When all you have is a 75 minute one shot, you need to think on a very basic, simple level.

There are lots of situations where students could apply deeper skills in searching in their personal lives. Looking up health information, looking up information about a company or business they are applying to, deciding how they stand on a political issue, or going deeper into a current event, such as the police shootings. But how to get students who can only search Google or Bing to expand and grow their skills beyond a simple one-box search? and how to get this to correspond to their assignment – especially when in most classes students choose their own topic?

Other than the obvious, “you have this research assignment to finish” situation, creating a real-life situation for a choose-your-own-topic-research-paper is difficult. I prefer to have students use their own topics to develop and search for, so a situation or simulation is difficult to plan unless you have their topics before hand and create one for each student. Or, I may just have students create their own situation; have them come up with the scenario where they would need this information. Maybe in higher level courses I’ll even have them set the standards.

For the standards in an ENG 111 class, the main learning goal would be to find comprehensive information about their topic. But not a general topic. They’d need to first find some narrowed aspect of their topic to focus on (treatments of health conditions, the effects of droughts on farmers vs city dwellers, the standard operating procedures of traffic stops or a policeman’s right to shoot, etc.) A poor performance would be a student with a broad topic who found one or two websites with much the same information. A better performance would be a student with a specific aspect of a broad topic who found multiple websites that didn’t all say the same thing, including information that may contradict other websites. An exceptional performance would be a student who had specific examples related to their topic to find information on and who found multiple websites and used library databases to find general information as well as studies, theory, or discussions about their topic. (If this sounds like a rubric, you’re right.)

Students can self-assess based on the list of sources and types of sources they found, plus the variety and depth of information retrieved, preferably with notes they take that refer back to their topic and inquiry. (If this sounds like an annotated bibliography, you’re right.) Other opportunities include creating posters detailing and comparing the various understandings to show to their classmates, in easy to read text and layout. The poster would be have to a final project due on another day and need instructor approval.

I chunk the class into developing a topic and searching for sources with the topic development based on a worksheet, which I can monitor and give suggestions as we go. I need to add a space for them to write down one source they found and will use for their topic and assignment, so I can give feedback on that as well. I’ll need to monitor the developing a topic portion of the class, because in the past, I have not left time for much searching on their part.

One idea I want to try is to visit the classroom the class before we meet for library instruction to introduce myself and assign them a video or two to watch (I’ve got a few on developing a topic). The trick is figuring out how to hold them accountable to watching the video – if I give them questions to do outside of class, how do I know they didn’t just copy from someone else? Maybe I should have them brainstorm their topic.

IDE Week 1 – Goals

1. Specific Context

ENG 111 classes have up to 25 students and there are taught by more part time adjuncts than full time instructors. When I come to teach their class, there are anywhere from 10-24 students (some leave school after getting their financial aid balance, others skip the library class). The classes are either 75 minutes long and meet twice a week or they are night classes meeting 1 night a week for 3 hours – I teach for 75 mins). When teaching these classes, I try to reserve a computer classroom if they do not already meet in one, however, this is getting increasingly difficult due to the developmental math emporiums. Plus, some computer classrooms are better than others. One only has 20 computers and another has the whiteboard blocked by the projection screen.

2. General Context

The learning expectations for this class include “inquiry, analysis, effective use of rhetorical strategies, thesis development, audience awareness, and revision…students should be able to produce unified, coherent, well-developed essays using standard written English.” Basically, they learn to write good and analyze stuff. In practice, it’s more about grammar and developing an argument/voice in an essay. For the library research component, the goals are vague and vary by instructor. Instructors range from those not requiring much of any research, to instructors requiring 5 or more scholarly sources (not just sources from a library database).

3. Nature of the Subject

ENG 111 is a practice course that polishes basic writing style and introduces students to research writing and analysis. This course introduces students to divergent learning, but most are still stuck in convergent. The department revamped the course about a year ago, to focus less on one big essay and instead contain multiple papers and a final, larger research paper (prompts were provided, but most instructors and librarians find them problematic, so most allow students to choose their own topics). In terms of library research, we recently switched from EBSCO to ProQuest databases and have been changing other electronic resources as budgets are decreased or remained flat.

4. Characteristics of Students

As a community college, there is a large age range of students, from HS-aged students taking college classes as part of their Middle College High School at CPCC to middle aged and senior citizens coming back for a degree. Programs include both general education and vocational and trade (Automotive and general education at my campus). We do have several international students with a broad range of English skills. Most students are low income and work at least part time and all commute. While we do have very bright and knowledgeable students, most are not and many are unmotivated and/or aimless. The vast majority have never used a library for research, just using Google, and they have short attention spans. I warn them that college level research is a whole new ball game, and that makes them anxious and apprehensive. They want to do just enough to get the assignment done.

5. Characteristics of the Teacher

I try to make what I teach relevant to them. I have them use their topics to develop a search strategy and get some work done in class. I use visuals in my presentations including pictures and videos. I use real world examples (most recent: to show why using quality information is important, I link the recent measles outbreak to an article about Lancet retracting Wakefield’s article), I chunk the class into lecture/video/activity/self-searching portions, and try to scaffold learning over sequenced classes (ENG 111, ENG 112, etc.). I want students to learn skills they can take with them and apply elsewhere, rather than giving them answers. I use visuals, humor, and examples from my own educational and employment career to help students see relevance and what they’ll be doing in their lives.

A year (or more) after the course is over, I want and hope students will take the time to think about the information they need to be more strategic and discerning searchers.

Foundational Knowledge

  • focusing a topic
  • creating a search strategy
  • using library resources
  • basic citation purpose

Application Goals

  • understand their information needs
  • choose appropriate sources

Integration Goals

  • search skills apply to multiple areas
  • broad search vs thought-out, strategic search
  • basic, one-box search engine vs library search features

Human Dimensions Goals

  • Students can learn and use advanced, complex search engines
  • Students can “poke around” or use trial and error
  • Patience is a virtue and dead ends happen

Caring Goals

  • Patience
  • Deliberateness
  • Curiosity
  • Confidence in new, complex resources

“Learning-How-to-Learn Goals”

  • Students learn to explore and try different paths
  • Complexity can be useful and helpful
  • Being deliberate and strategic cuts down on frustration and confusion

Job Advice: Giving a Demonstration in an Interview

I have served on many hiring committees and viewed several more demonstrations from applying librarians. The biggest gap I see is the demonstration part of the interview, so here is some advice I have not seen elsewhere.
I am sure you have heard the basics about giving a presentation – have multiple copies of your PowerPoint, practice, wear a top that is long enough you don’t flash the room when pointing to the screen…But perhaps you have not heard about the more specific “best practices” when giving a Library Instruction demonstration during your interview.
The key to a demonstration is that you are showing your teaching technique, not how much you know. The hiring committee wants to know what kind of teacher you are and how you will relate to/interact with their students.  They know you know how to search a database; you have a MLIS for that. They want to know how you teach.

Things to Consider:

  • Your audience
    The closest instruction I had about teaching involved showing a room full of grad students how to search a specific database. Teaching a room of first year/freshman students is very different. So, when planning your demonstration pay just as much attention to your audience as you do to what you are teaching. When in doubt it is okay to ask for the parameters/characteristics of your “class”. If they say it is up to you, make it clear who your class is before your demonstration. Even better, do your research and find out which kinds of classes the library you are applying to teaches most. Do they need subject specific, scholarly (or vocational field) information, or a get-them-started, general search? Are they familiar with the library’s resources or have they been using Google their whole lives? Have they completed a true research assignment before? The audience will determine how much depth and detail you need to teach. You do not have to show off all you know about searching and databases. You need to teach your class what they need to know to complete their assignment, not how to become expert searchers. In fact, try teaching them something other than searching. Chew on that for a minute.
  • Interaction
    Do not lecture. Have an activity. If your “students” have access to computers, do not just tell them how to search, make them do it. This is where teaching your “students” something other than searching can be useful, especially if the students do not have computers. Handouts with activities that students can do individually or in groups are more hands on and learner focused. Just please, no scavenger hunts; they are problematic and much harder than you think to be effective.

One more thing: You only have 15-20 minutes for your demonstration, so it is okay to say, “and here’s where I’d have the class do ______…” and move on.

This also applies to any First Year Experience/Freshman Librarian position at universities, not just community colleges.

For more advice:
For more on scavenger hunts: McCain, Cheryl. “Scavenger Hunt Assignments In Academic Libraries: Viewpoints Versus Reality.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 14.1 (2007): 19-32. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.