Sunday, October 30, 2011

Insight into the freshman brain

Hi fellow IAs!

I recently asked my sister about a freshman library instruction session she attended at UW-Madison and wrote about it on my library blog. I thought her comments might be useful to some other IAs, so feel free to check out the post:


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Choose your own adventure library instruction

Earlier this week I tried an approach to teaching that I'm calling Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) library instruction.  The idea behind it is that students can pick what areas they want/need to focus on.  This could be done easily by a show of hands, but I used Poll Everywhere.  Poll Everywhere is a fun, free (for under 30 responses) live-polling site that allows participants to text in their responses and see the results come in live on the screen.  It's certainly more time-consuming than the show of hands, but we all know how much students love texting.  It's super easy to set up polls ahead of time; just make sure you create an account so you can save the polls you drafted and bring them up during the session.  For a 50-minute session I gave the students two opportunities to select the direction the session took.  I think two was appropriate given the time.  Three would be more appropriate for a 75-minute session.

For the first poll, I asked students which phase of the research process they wanted to focus on.  Their options were:
  • Creating a research question from a topic
  • Selecting an appropriate source for their information need
  • Searching library databases using Boolean
Whichever option they selected, I focused  the discussion around that phase of research, but touched peripherally on the others.  I mostly used their selection as a framework for discussing all of the above options.

The second poll asked them what kind of database they would like me to demonstrate.  For this one, their options were:
  • A database for articles and books (OneSearch@IU)
  • A database for newspaper articles (Proquest Historical Newspapers)
  • A database for business information (
I was able to fit in two database demos, so I showed them their top two choices.  If you're going to take this approach, make sure you have a handout listing other appropriate databases in the areas you weren't able to cover so they don't feel as if they're missing out on important information.

CYOA pros:
  • Empowers students to know that they are active participants in learning.
  • Even when the course instructor is an effective communicator, we don't always know where the students are in the research process or what they already feel comfortable doing.  Direct student feedback is sometimes the only way to get that information.
  • Keeps them (and you!) on their toes!
  • They get to use their cell phones!  They love cell phones!  And texting!  So much!
CYOA cons:
  • It's time-consuming, both during the session and during lesson-planning.  You essentially have to prepare twice as much material as you will actually be able to teach during the session.
  • Students don't always know what they need.  We're the experts and have a better understanding of what will help them along the research path.  Allowing them options can be scary.
  • Nerve-wracking.  You have no idea what direction the session will take.  Things could get messy.
I thought this approach would either be magical or a disastrous fiery train-wreck.  Turns out it was neither.  Students seemed to enjoy the sense of control (and did I mention that they LOVE texting?!), but ultimately it wasn't the miracle of student-engagement I was hoping it would be.  That said, I would certainly try it again.  If nothing else, I had a good time and it allowed me to get one step closer to being okay with a little instructional messiness.

What are your thoughts on CYOA?  Any ideas for improvement would be much appreciated!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Project Information Literacy

Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a long-term national research study based out of the University of Washington's Information School.  The goal of this study is to better understand how college students engage in information-seeking and research behaviors in the digital age.  Check out these PIL releases for October for more information:

What is Project Information Literacy?
This brief video provides an overview of the scope of the project.

New Research from Project Information Literacy, Fall 2011
This research preview video highlights major findings of the 2011 PIL Technology Study.

New Smart Talk: Dr. Russell Poldrack, Poldrack Lab, University of Texas at Austin
Q&A with neuroscientist, Dr. Russell Poldrack, who discusses multitasking and "deep learning"