OK Google

July 18th, 2013 § Comments Off § permalink

john wearing Google Glass

I’ve been teaching Orientation classes for incoming first-year students at USC the past few weeks. The students who attend the class are usually self-selecting and tend to be extremely energetic and excited about library spaces. The one-hour session starts with a brief photo-taking activity and ends with a Special Collections “petting zoo.” In between, I give a 10-15 minute spiel on the various campus libraries (organized by proximity to dorms and late-night food options).

Today, one of the students came to the session wearing Google Glass. He’s a developer and a future engineering student. He was kind enough to let me try them out. I have strong objections to Google Glass from the standpoint of privacy, but in a moment of overwhelming technolust, I squealed like a child.

I’ve already discussed with him the possibility of developing a library app. =)


Imagine there’s no one-off…

November 14th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Today, I’ll be attending the last of a series of library workshops on integrating information literacy into the curriculum. In preparation for the class, I’ve been searching for examples of librarians that have worked with faculty to develop system-wide changes to student learning outcomes, course assignments, and degree requirements. I’ve listed a few examples at the end, but they are few and far between.

The difficulty, as many of these studies point out, is that models for intense librarian/faculty collaborations in curriculum reform and/or oversight are not sustainable. In particular, assessing student learning according to accepted information literacy rubrics requires significant resources, mostly time and often additional funding (e.g. incentives, additional staffing). It is possible to focus on a single academic department or sub-unit of the student population and expect reasonable success, but to create change at the institutional level, that requires momentum and resources from beyond the library.

On the other hand, we know from both the research and anecdotal evidence that one-off courses do not provide enough information literacy instruction to last a student throughout her four years at the university. It can be a powerful push in the right direction, but students need more than just forward momentum to keep going for the long term. They need time and space for reflection, synthesis, application, reassessment, and realignment: all of which require a longitudinal approach to info-lit learning. Yet despite over a decade of research focused on information literacy, universities have been slow to recognize its importance in their goals. So in lieu of institutional support for system-wide info-lit instruction, librarians continue spend a large amount of their time teaching and preparing for one-offs.

All this is prologue to an idea I’ve been thinking about of late: what if we didn’t? What if we didn’t spend 60% of our week teaching 1-hour info-lit courses? What if, instead, we spent that time on curriculum integration and strategic design? On info-lit assessment at multiple levels of student experience? On proving to stakeholders the benefits of info-lit skills and connecting those to institutional goals?

As I see it, that reality is not far off. I can easily imagine converting 90% of our one-off classes into asynchronous online tutorials. All the basics — search strategies, primary vs. secondary, specific database usage, the information cycle, source evaluation, etc. — could be converted to online modules and assigned by faculty as needed for each class. Yes, this would require a gargantuan amount of work at first, but once up-and-running (and if assigned to a dedicated staff member), it could be easily maintained. If not librarians, I am quite confident someone will do this. Soon.

What then? To what would instruction librarians turn their time and attention? There are three things I’ve learned from my experience and research thus far regarding effective info-lit learning:

  1. Course professors are the best conduits for IL learning. They are the most-trusted resource in the classroom. (Authority)
  2. Specific, course-related, IL assignments work best. (Scaffolding)
  3. Info-lit must be constantly reinforced and requires reflection over time. (Longitudinal growth and meta-analysis)

To this then I would turn my attention: taking a more holistic view of undergraduate education and searching for ways to embed info-lit beyond the individual class assignment. This approach must produce scalable programs that can benefit both the entire curriculum and individual courses of study that include assessment procedures seamlessly integrated and connected to the institution’s student learning objectives. The ultimate goal of such a program would be to prove that every student has the essential info-lit skills necessary to succeed post-graduation

It sounds cheesy, I’ll admit, but I see it as where we are headed given the growth of online learning, the importance of learning assessment, and the need for more in-depth info-lit instruction. In the least, it is a potential direction and one we should strategically position ourselves to pursue.


Further Reading

Bennett, S. (2007). Campus cultures fostering information literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 7, 147–167.

Booth, C. and Matthews, B. (2012). Understanding the learner experience: Threshold concepts and curriculum mapping. Invited Paper at the California Academic & Research Libraries Conference, April 7, 2012, San Diego, CA.

Dupuis, E.A., Maslach, C., Schrager, C.D. and McDaniel, S. (2007). Information literacy and undergraduate research: Meeting the challenge at a large research university. In Information Literacy Collaborations that Work, T.E. Jacobson and T. Mackey (Eds). New York: Neal-Schuman.

Field, T. and Macmillan, M. (2011). Toward development of collaborative, comprehensive information literacy and research skills program inside the journalism curriculum. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 66(2), 176-86.

Gamsby, M.K. (2010). The physics of designing an integrated physics information literacy program. Science & Technology Libraries, 29(4), 350-61.

Pritchard, P.A. (2010). The embedded science librarian: Partner in curriculum design and delivery. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 373-96.

Salisbury, F. and Sheridan, L. (2011). Mapping the journey: Developing an information literacy strategy as part of curriculum reform. Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 43(3), 185-93.

Scaramozzino, J.M. (2010). Integrating stem information competencies into an undergraduate curriculum. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 315-33.

Travis, Tiffini A. (2008). Librarians as Agents of Change: Working with Curriculum Committees using Change Agency Theory. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 114, 17-33.

Do a good deed: Nominate an instruction librarian for an ACRL award

September 25th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

ACRL offers a number of achievement and distinguished service awards, but three in particular highlight excellence in the area of instruction. I know at least two people that immediately come to mind and I bet you do as well. So take 30 minutes out of your day to make someone you admire feel special and get some well-deserved recognition! From the ACRL website:

Instruction Section Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award

This award recognizes an individual librarian who has made an especially significant contribution to the advancement of instruction in a college or research library environment. The award honors Miriam Dudley, whose pioneering efforts in the field of bibliographic instruction led to the formation of the ACRL Instruction Section (formerly ACRL Bibliographic Instruction Section).

A plaque and a $1000.00 cash award, sponsored by the Instruction Section, are presented during the Instruction Section program at the ALA Annual Conference.

Criteria and Submission Info


Ilene F. Rockman Instruction Publication of the Year Award

This annual award recognizes an outstanding publication related to instruction in a library environment published in the preceding two years. The award honors Ilene F. Rockman’s professional contributions to academic librarianship in the area of information literacy. This award is administered by the Instruction Section.

A plaque and $3,000 award, donated by Emerald Group Publishing Limited, are presented during the Instruction Section program at the ALA Annual Conference.

Criteria and Submission Info


Instruction Section Innovation Award

This annual award recognizes a project that demonstrates creative, innovative, or unique approaches to information literacy instruction or programming.

A certificate and a $3,000 award, donated by ProQuest. Recipients(s) are recognized during the Instruction Section Program at the ALA Annual Conference. The award is administered by the Instruction Section of ACRL.

Criteria and Submission Info

Determining the professional needs of online instruction librarians: our poster at ALA Annual 2012!

June 19th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

Emerging Leaders logo

Are you an academic librarian who teaches online or develops online tools for information literacy instruction? Are you interested in improving your skills through professional development? Then come to the ALA Emerging Leaders poster session at ALA Annual this Friday, 3:00-4:00 in the Anaheim Convention Center, rm. 303AB. The EL Team C (Andy Herzog, Megan Johnson, Rebecca Miller,  Diana Symons, Amber Wilson, Nancy Fawly, and myself) will be discussing the results of our survey of the professional development needs of online instruction librarians and our forthcoming recommendations to the ACRL Instruction Section.

If you have specific concerns, ideas, or opinions about online instruction, please stop by and speak with us. We hope to see you there! 

For those unable to attend, a full report is forthcoming. I’ll share the link here once it is published.

Project Description

Distance education is booming, but how do librarians best teach and engage students to find and evaluate information in an online environment, beyond using tutorials? The ACRL Instruction Section currently has committees that focus on online instructional materials (Peer-Reviewed Instructional Materials Online), the impact of technology on instruction (Instructional Technologies) and face-to-face teaching methods (Teaching Methods), but the Section has no resources available for librarians looking to develop and improve their online instructional methods and class content. This project assesses what is needed for librarians to further develop their online teaching skills and explores the options of creating a new Instruction Section committee, or expanding the charge of an existing committee, to focus on resources and best practices for online information literacy instruction.

An online course on online teaching

June 13th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

I’ve mentioned before the work my Emerging Leaders group is doing investigating the professional development needs of librarians teaching online. One of the many things we’ve discovered is that librarians feel unprepared and often lack the confidence to teach effectively in online or blended environments. Well, as I was browsing The Chronicle this morning, I found an Q&A with four MOOC instructors, one of whom is teaching an open online course on… teaching online! The class is already in session, but perhaps Dr. Bonk will consider teaching it again. In which case, you’ll find me there.

Course Title: Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success

Description: Motivating students and creating community within blended and online learning environments is crucial to academic achievement and success. This open course will provide both theoretical concepts and practical tools for instructors to improve motivation, retention, and engagement within blended and online courses.

Link to course site.

The sterile, impersonal online classroom

June 7th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

A recent article by Jeffrey Young of The Chronicle tells the all too familiar story of cheating in online courses. It refers to one student simply as “Mr. Smith.” Notice this comment:

Although the syllabus clearly forbids academic dishonesty, Mr. Smith argues that the university has put so little into the security of the course that it can’t be very serious about whether the online students are learning anything. Hundreds of students took the course with him, and he never communicated with the professor directly. It all felt sterile, impersonal, he told me. “If they didn’t think students would do this, then they didn’t think it through.”

Something worth thinking about if you teach and/or design online courses and a challege to develop more collaborative and engaging assignments.

More on sharing instruction materials: github and the unix philosophy

June 5th, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

Following up on yesterday’s request that instruction librarians share their teaching materials for the time-lacking and thinly-spread among us, ProfHacker has a post this morning on sharing syllabi via github, a social coding repository. The author of the post, Mark Sample, highlights the collaborative culture of open source and his desire to replicate that culture in scholarship:

Last month at the annual Computers and Writing Conference, I participated on a roundtable about the role of computational literacy in the field—and in the humanities more generally. One of the points I made during the wide-ranging discussion (and on the backchannel as well) is that world of software development can provide humanists with “actionable metaphors.” I had in mind the collaborative nature of open source code, as well as the necessary emphasis in programming on revision, both exemplified by the code sharing platform GitHub.

While github’s text-only requirement places a significant restriction on the type of material that can be uploaded (it is, after all, meant for code not instructional materials), the philosophy behind sites like github provides a useful model for sharing within our profession, namely:

  1. To make your materials as accessible as possible, store them in flat files.
  2. To make your materials as flexible as possible, keep them small…
  3. … and keep them modular (break them up into chunks).
  4. Focus each module on doing one thing well.

If these four points sound familiar, you may have read Mike Gancarz’s Linux and the Unix Philosophy. The unix philosophy, which serves as a foundation for github’s success, can be ported to libraries as well, especially regarding the creation and sharing of instruction materials and instructional design.

Dear instruction librarians

June 4th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

Right now, I’m working with a group of ALA Emerging Leaders to assess the professional development needs of librarians who teach online. We are still crunching numbers and it’s too early to release the results (come to our poster session at Annual!), but I’ve just finished coding one of the questions from our survey and there is a definite theme developing:

Many librarians do not have nearly enough time to develop instruction materials for online environments.

There are plenty of reasons for this, but it seems to go without saying that creating course materials, implementing them in online platforms, and keeping them up to date takes significantly more time than one person (even a dedicated one) can typically manage. More details on that when we publish our results, but for now I wanted to plant an idea into your head:

Dear instruction librarians, when you create materials for use online, please consider sharing these as widely as possible. If you can share an unbranded version, all the better.

At one point, there was a library instruction wiki, but that seems to have disappeared from the nets. There are of course the PRIMO and LOEX databases. It seems that what most librarians needs (solo librarians especially) are out-of-the-box instructional modules that can be quickly combined and ported to multiple formats/platforms.

So the next time you finish creating that awesome learning activity for tomorrow’s Writing 101 course, consider publishing online (with an open CC license or GPL) or submitting it to one of the databases mentioned above. Your friends and colleagues will thank you!

Library instruction and reflection: feed your brain

March 21st, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

I still consider myself a “newbie” at library instruction, so I make a point to set aside time following every class to reflect on what just happened. Through this, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and my teaching. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

1) Specific goals produce specific results.

For each instruction session, I create three expected learning outcomes (ELOs). I’ve found that the more specific these statement are, the easier they are to assess. I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, but because I’ve drafted my ELOs in a “smart“ way, I know exactly where and how I missed the mark. For example, instead of saying “Help students define their research paper topic,” I say “Students will have a narrow view of their proposed topic and be able to state it clearly and concisely [before the end of class].” How do I know I achieved this? By having students brainstorm ideas (mind-mapping) in class and then using those ideas to write out a thesis statement a la Wayne Booth’s The Craft of Research.

2) You learn as much after the class as you do in it.

I’ve been reading Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning recently and I’ve adopted her recommended practice of asking myself three questions after every session: What went well? What didn’t go well? and How can I make it better next time? For each session that I teach, I type up the responses from the surveys I give each student at the end of class (Top 3 things you learned; 2 questions or things unclear; one thing you will definitely use) and compare these to my ELOs. The entire process only takes 15-20 minutes but the benefits multiply exponentially. For example, I originally thought that having a rigidly structured class would produce the best results, i.e. student surveys would match up with ELOs. But in fact, after reviewing the last few courses I’ve taught, the classes that were more organic (more collaborative time, more Q&A, more impromptu) produced better outcomes, especially regarding student satisfaction with the course.

3) You can’t force students to ask questions.

I wanted so terribly to incorporate Poll Everywhere into my instruction. I thought it would be a way to encourage more open inquiry but in fact it did the exact opposite. It shut down the students’ desire to ask questions or give feedback. I may use PE for other purposes, but as an attempt to generate questions, it was doing more harm than good. Instead, I’ve been working to generate conversation, which inevitably seems to lead to questions. If I get the students talking, I know I’m in good shape.

4) Always have a backup plan.

I walked into a classroom yesterday only to discover that it didn’t have any whiteboard space. So my plan to have students create mind-maps on the board was crushed. Instead, I opened up Google Docs and Voila! Instant whiteboard.

5) I love Q&A time!

Even with all the planning I do for each class (2-3 hours), I still respond more articulately to unexpected questions. Yesterday, a student asked whether or not he could print off books from Google Books. This gave me the opportunity to talk about copyright and e-books. The student was crestfallen that he couldn’t print off everything he need from gBooks, but now he also knew where to go to find e-books in the library collection.

In all likelihood, it will be years before I even begin to consider myself “a good teacher,” In the meantime, I can be confident that I have a realistic (and data-supported) understanding of my abilities.

Know thy algorithm

February 23rd, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

One more thing I’d like to share about yesterday’s info-lit class. I began the class with a standard exercise that had students compare search results in Google and search results in Proquest. This provided a useful launching off point for discussing scholarly vs. non-scholarly resources, different types of information formats (e.g. article vs. blog vs. newspaper), and commonalities among search engines (eg. refine-your-search sidebars).

It also gave me the opportunity to talk about the importance of understanding how a search engine works. I emphasized the fact that search shouldn’t feel like magic, it should feel like a machine. While the details of many search algorithms are considered trade secrets, we can still understand them based on their results. The example I gave was Google’s personalization feature (which, is surprisingly difficult to avoid).

So I was happy to see this presentation by Karen Blakeman of RBA Information Services come through my feed recently. Even though many of the tips will probably be obsolete in two or three years if Google decides to mix things up again (still can’t get used to not using the + operator), there’s some good advice here on what to look out for: