Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Freshmen Library Tours

New and eager students will flood the campus soon. This typically means high energy and excitement as well as a fresh round of library tours. Many libraries throughout the country have innovated in this area of freshmen orientation. Recently, several posts to the Information-Literacy and Instruction listserv have focused on the different ways librarians have introduced incoming freshmen to the academic library. At Cornell College's Cole Library in Mt. Vernon, IA, they give ice cream; cones were donated by a local bank wanting to get publicity. Peer tutors guided them to different "stations" of the library where they learned about the function of that part of the library and entered their names into raffles.

Students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Library divide into groups before they go to different parts of the library to answer questions. When they return, the larger group goes on the tour, and those students who answered questions give the tour to their peers while the librarian stands to the side, periodically contributing additional information. Students, then, teach each other about the library. Apparently, instructors and students have enjoyed this.

In the California State University at Stanislaus Library they will be playing golf in the library to help their students improve their putts and knowledge of the library building and resources. A guide shows them where to tee off, inserting useful information about the library. On the east coast, the University of South Carolina Upstate Library incorporates an iPod into the tour as well as a worksheet for them to fill out. Students must travel around the library and complete various tasks, including copy articles of interest out of encyclopedias, magazines, and reference books as well as answer questions regarding the library services and resources.

Here, at Idaho State's Oboler Library we conduct traditional tours to familiarize students with our library. We hope students will understand better what the library offers--more than just books--and have a positive experience that will draw them back to ask us questions and take advantage of the study space, the books, the computers, the videos, the services, etc. If you want a tour of the Eli M. Oboler Library, please contact me to arrange a time and date. jardspen(at)

Book Review: "The Art of Possibility."

Zander, Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander. The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.

The content of this book lives up to the promise offered in the title. Rosamund and Benjamin Zander work together in seamless fashion to identify a few attitudes that can transform our lives. They emphasize the importance of “Rule Number 6”—Don’t take yourself so seriously, giving others an A, accepting things as they are in order to make better choices, and stepping into a world of possibility.

Another reviewer, a medical doctor named Christiane Northrup, offered this useful comment: “The very act of reading it with an open heart and mind will improve your health!” Indeed, the fresh anecdotes interweaved with insightful observations can really be liberating to say the least.

Originally, the Harvard Business School Press requested that the Zanders write a how-to book for both a business and a lay audience. Benjamin Zander relies on his plentiful successes as the conductor for the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, while Roz works from a different perspective—family therapy. These perspectives cast a holistic view onto their basic premises. For a sample of their style go to and key “Benjamin Zander on music and passion” into their search box for a 21-minute, inspirational video. It’s no wonder that their book became a national bestseller.

If you would like to read this book, check the ISU library catalog (or your own public library catalog) to verify its availability and call number.

Book Review: "Thinking About Teaching and Learning"

Leamnson, Robert. Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning with First Year College and University Students. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 1999.

Robert Leamnson’s book invites professors and college instructors to consider the important issues of teaching and learning. His definitions of these two important college activities form a foundation for his observations. As a biologist he thinks of learning as it occurs in the brain with the stabilization of synapses and neurons; therefore, learning involves a physical growth in the brain. Obvious or not, the more parts of the brain one uses while studying a particular topic, the more chances exist that that information will persist. He affirms that language acquisition lies at the heart of all learning and that teachers should challenge their students to listen, read, write, speak, and collaborate with others.

Leamnson defines teaching as “any activity that has the conscious intention of, and potential for, facilitating learning in another.” Throughout the book Leamnson keeps a steady outlook on teaching. Unlike some proponents of teaching, he does not put his faith entirely in one pedagogical method; rather, he encourages teachers to develop an assortment of approaches in the classroom. In recent years the lecture has fallen on hard times, yet Leamnson still argues in favor of the lecture as long as it accompanies other techniques like quizzes, collaborative groups, dialogues with students, and so forth. These practical suggestions can be tried in the classroom among others not mentioned here.

With only 152 pages it exists as a rather quick read, and the fact that it does not delve into deep philosophical question makes it even more accessible to a broader audience of academics. His writing style tends to engage the reader. For anyone interested in improving their teaching, this book can really get you started on the right foot with down-to-earth pointers and encouragement to challenge students to engage in real learning. Check the Oboler catalog to verify availability and call number.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Boot Camp for Profs. July 19-26, 2008. Leadville, CO

Boot Camp for Profs proved to be a refreshing retreat that inspired me to think about new approaches to teaching and learning. This boot camp began on July 20th and concluded on the 25th in Leadville, CO (elevation 10,200 feet). For a more expansive description of the boot camp visit the following website: Registration fees paid for weeklong access to a dormitory bedroom, meals at the cafeteria, access to classrooms and computer labs on the Colorado Mountain College’s Timberline Campus, a t-shirt, a dozen books on education and learning, and access to 11 sets of workshops.

A large part of Boot Camp centered on developing a personal teaching philosophy. This activity allowed us to synthesize much of the information from workshops and provided opportunities for introspection on key elements of teaching such as collaborative learning, lecturing, learning, active learning, ethics, assessment, students, language, affective environments, methodology, etc. Anyone interested in reading my teaching philosophy pre- and post-Boot Camp can look at my blog: Teachers need to empower students by providing them with information and activities/challenges that will actually bring about real learning.

Other participants in the Boot Camp promoted learning with the help of the instructors. 25 individuals came from 11 different institutions to learn from 10 instructors. Generally, the day began with a 9:00 workshop that lasted until noon and other workshops resumed at 2:30 and lasted until 5:00. Evening and lunch breaks allowed for participants to develop teaching philosophies, create lesson plans, relax, socialize, and read from the resources given to us. On Wednesday afternoon all participants could do whatever they chose. Among the possibilities I opted to go mountain biking at 8,000 feet, so I learned how to climb up and over mountain trails without crashing and injuring myself. An instructor of mechanical engineering from Boise State gave me pointers. After climbing the steeper part of the trail we rode on an older gentler railroad bed that allowed us to talk about teaching, libraries, learning, and life. I stabilized a few synapses involving my motor skills and talked about the dilemmas academic libraries in Idaho face with the one-time funds for serials from the state legislature.

Instructors frequently divided participants into groups, so we could participate in collaborative-learning activities. These activities can punctuate lectures. Instead of having lectures gobble up all the class time, an instructor can use a variety of activities and assessments to cement learning or understand the comprehension of the students. For example, a visual quiz might be a valuable activity for an instruction librarian. After showing students where to find important resources via the library homepage, the instructor can quiz the students to verify that they listened and understood. Groups of three or four students can work together and raise a large colored letter that corresponds with the answer their group chose to a multiple-choice question. This allows the instructor to provide further explanations or feedback if a particular concept was not understood.

A scientific approach to learning supports the use of active- and collaborative-learning techniques. Studies have found that learning sticks when more parts of the brain are used. Possibly, some of you may be thinking this is a “no-brainer,” but this means that students should not only listen to lectures, they need to talk about the material, ask questions, and write down what they have learned. Language acquisition lies at the heart of real learning, which means students should learn by listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Group work, if done effectively, can propel students to engage with the material and enhance their learning significantly.

I look forward to studying the materials given me as part of this boot camp. They boxed up my books and have sent them in the mail at book/media rates, so we would not have to pay extra when we returned on our flights home. [Incidentally, the box of books was shipped from Leadville, CO, on a Saturday, and it arrived in Pocatello, ID, office on a Wednesday. Could be a record.] Ideas and techniques from the boot camp will be useful in the library’s instruction program. I had an opportunity to create a syllabus for an eight-week, information-literacy course, which would be fun to teach in the future. To see an English 101 lesson plan that I created, go to the Instruction Folder on the J Drive and click on the “English 101.doc.”

On a lighter note, other participants enjoyed having a librarian in the group. At one point one of the instructors talked about students needing information and going to Google for answers. I blurted out “Or ask a librarian!” This ignited loud laughter from everyone, and several approached me later and said they appreciated how I had put in a plug for library resources. One even commented that I had offered the most memorable “quip” of the entire boot camp. That same day I talked about the CRAAP Test, and this garnered even more attention for libraries and the need for library instruction. Many kept asking me for the meaning of the acronym; they want to use it in their own classes now. One asked for the website with the fuller explanation, which I willingly sent her:

Personally, the mountain scenery and the cooler temperatures proved to be very refreshing. Each morning and most evenings I went running, walking, or biking among the trails in the forest and enjoyed gazing at the tallest mountains in Colorado—Mt. Elbert (14,433 = #1), Mt. Massive (14,421 = #2), Mt. Sheridan, Mt. Galena, and Mt. Sherman (14,036 = #46) []. One evening I had the opportunity to watch the film Freedom Writers, which focuses on the success of one teacher in southern California who helps her students change their lives and broaden their horizons in her English class. It proved to be inspiring and underscored many of the points shared in the workshops.

I give the instructors, colleagues, and guests of Boot Camp for Profs an A.