Thursday, May 28, 2009

Recommendation for Article on Library Scavenger Hunts

Since I am working with our First Year Seminar program to develop a library scavenger hunt, I decided to do a little research to see what has been written on the subject. ACRL's information literacy and instruction listserv has archived many of the responses from librarians around the country, but the archive is very unwieldy. When I accessed it I could only search from month to month. The search box would not allow me to search the whole archive. Who knows, perhaps they don't have a server that could accommodate many extensive searchers?

Academic Search Complete yielded a few results, but the most promising article was not available in full text. So I interlibrary loaned it--one of the first times I've used this service since working at ISU. Cheryl McCain wrote a well-balanced article for College & Undergraduate Libraries titled "Scavenger Hunt Assignments in Academic Libraries: Viewpoints versus Reality" (14.1: 2007, 19-32). Many librarians complain about library scavenger hunts, but they do not back up their complaints with any research.

Nearly every librarian knows that a scavenger hunt can be poorly developed; however, McCain's article cites one study that showed how a scavenger hunt actually taught more to students than a library tour. Groups and basic instruction helps in the assignment also increased the scavenger hunt's success. Not much as been written about scavenger hunts in the way of an actual research study, so this could be a great opportunity for an enterprising librarian to conduct such a study. Students and faculty often learn from the scavenger hunt and in the process become more comfortable and familiar with the building and its physical and virtual resources, which or worthy objectives in my book.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What the Best College Teachers Do (A Book Review)

Many librarians in the last ten or fifteen years have found themselves in situations they never dreamed of previously--instruction settings. Generally speaking, individuals who have entered the library profession may have done so in part because they did not want to teach or stand in front of people to give presentations. While this may have been possible 40 to 50 years ago, it no longer holds true. Academic librarians need to learn about teaching issues just as much as their full-time faculty colleagues across campus. Ken Bain's book What the Best College Teachers Do is a great place to start learning about teaching and learning issues, because it explores his findings from a longitudinal study on a large sample of the best college teachers.

First, a good college teacher must be knowledgeable in his/her discipline; however, expert knowledge of one's field does not automatically qualify a person to become a great teacher. He writes: "The people in our study, unlike so many others have used their knowledge to develop techniques for grasping fundamental principles and organizing concepts that others can use to begin building their own understanding and abilities" (16). Certainly, in-depth understandings of a topic can give anyone a great deal of confidence, but the best teachers actively seek for ways in which they can lead others to similar understandings.

Great teachers do not want to create a pandemonium of parrots. No, they honestly want to influence students to become lifelong learners who passionately explore the big questions of life. Bain says: "While others, for example, talk about transmitting knowledge and building a storehouse of information in the students' brains, our subjects talk about helping learners grapple with ideas and information to construct their understanding" (16). Teaching is not an easy thing to do, but Bain asserts that people can learn how to become better teachers. In fact, that is the main purpose of his book: "Most of all, I hope readers will take away from this book the conviction that good teaching can be learned" (21).

This book challenges the idea that someone is either born a good teacher or they are not. For inexperienced and experienced teachers alike, it can be temptingly easy to fault the students when a class does not go well. Student attitudes and preparations can make a huge difference, but Bain claims that the best college teacher "didn't blame their students for any of the difficulties they faced" (19). Instead they tended to examine what had happened and then modify their approach to achieve better results.

The seven chapters and epilogue focus on key teaching issues:
1. Definitions of the best teachers
2. What they know about learners and students
3. How they prepare to teach
4. Their expectations of students
5. How they conduct class
6. How they treat students
7. How they evaluate students and themselves
Epilogue: What we can learn from them

I highly recommend that librarians with teaching responsibilities pick up this book and consider how they can use its principles to improve library instruction. Bain writes in a very accessible manner and constantly pulls quotes and anecdotes from interviews while making observations and conclusions throughout the book.

Teachers in all fields of study can begin to do what the best teachers do. Bain concludes: "Excellent teachers develop their abilities through constant self-evaluation, reflection, and the willingness to change" (172).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Information Discoveries and Behavior

Today I heard about a musician I had not heard about before, so I looked first in the Oxford Reference Online resource and found nothing on this particular artist. However, I did find a good little article in the Encyclopedia Britannica on Dan Fogelberg. This led me to discover that I could share the article about Mr. Fogelberg with readers if my blog. I think this is pretty cool that Encyclopedia Britannica allows its readers share useful articles with those who do not have paid subscriptions to their encyclopedia. It makes some sense; if people see the quality articles they are writing, they might be more inclined to pay for a personal subscription themselves.

Also, I googled "Dan Fogelberg" and found a bunch of websites and videos focusing on him. The first result took me to another Google results page that listed all of his albums with links to the record labels where you could no doubt purchase individual tracks or the entire album. Perhaps this should not surprise me, because the internet really does cater to business interests. In other words it's a great place to buy and sell things and find where you can do this, which you probably already knew.

From the second results page I saw something else I had never seen. At the top and bottom of the webpage, the Google search button said "Search Music," and it was placed next to another search button titled "Search Web." These are little things, but it tells me that Google continues to make improvements to its product. They must realize the searchers like to limit their options. If they are searching for music, they don't want medical sites to pop up. Apparently, though, you have to enter your search and select what you want before this limiting function appears. In this case "Dan Fogelberg" was a big enough or unique enough name (though I don't recall having ever heard of him in all my born days before today), so that Google could tell he was a musician. The logic follows that if you want to know more about this musician, maybe you would like to learn more about other musicians.

I wonder how much information behavior has changed because of the Google algorithm. My limited understanding is that it returns results according to their popularity as determined by the number of links pointing to particular webpages. The more sites pointing their hyperlinks to a particular page, the more likely you are to find it by just surfing the internet. Anyway, something to think about.

Yeah, Dan Fogelberg definitely appealed more to the generation that preceded mine. Chances are that I've heard some of his music without learning about him--that he was the artist.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Google Information Behavior

Google Analytics allows people to see how many people are coming to their website, which sites referred them to the site, and which terms they entered in a search engine to find the site. It's interesting and flattering to find out that people from India, Australia, Russia, England, etc. have visited my site before. Of course, the vast majority if individuals viewing my blog come from the United States and Canada.

Don't worry, I have no reason to be cocky as soon as I see how long people stay on any given page. My bounce rate is too high. It does feel good to see which entries get looked at the most and for the longest amount of time. At any rate, looking at this usage data does motivate me to write more posts to my blog. The more blog posts I write, the more that people will likely see my blog

Currently, my blog is up 9.27% over the last month in number of visitors, with 271 visits who averaged one minute twelve seconds (1:12) on my site. In the last month only 9.96% were repeat visitors, indicating that a clear majority found my site via a search engine. Actually, the "Traffic Sources Overview" shows that 8.49% came to my site directly, 15.50% came from referring sites (sites with lists of information-literacy/library blogs), and 76.01% from search engines. Increasing my post frequency and quality would likely increase my number of repeat visitors.

It's particularly interesting to me to see which Google search terms brought individuals to my blog. "College reading strategies" always seems to draw several people to my blog each month. It's often at the top of my most-viewed posts, but not far behind that is my post on the difference between a catalog and an index, though the searchers often use different sorts of terms and combinations of terms to find it. Many have found my site looking for a la carte menus for library instruction. It seems that my most faithful audience out there consists of other librarians, which totally makes sense, considering the subject matter of my posts.

Quite a number of individuals have found my site by conducting various searches on the differences between the Greek gods, Dionysus and Apollo, and their philosophies.

Of the 186 searches that found my site, there were 106 searches that contained more than three words. People understand they can enter lots of words, including prepositions, into a search, and this will often yield the right kinds of results they are seeking.

The person who conducted this search "inblogtitle:"information literacy" university" stayed on my site the longest (26 mins.) and actually viewed 4 different pages. (Thank you, and I hope you come back.) It's probably a librarian or a library-science student. In second place, someone who searched on the following terms: "scholarships and grants reference book," stayed on the site for 20 minutes and visited two pages. Third place goes to the information seeker who used these keywords: "craap test worksheet activity quiz" with a time of 7:28.

Particularly for librarians, it is interesting to think about the information behavior and practice of different individuals, which reminds me that I need to go back and look at that post to remember what the difference is between information behavior and information practice.

Thank you for visiting my blog. : ) Please comment and let me know what you think.

Knowing How to Find Information

Information-literacy skills will help individuals recognize when they need information, where they might go for information, how to find it, and how to use it. Today a patron came asking for the salary of department chairs in a California State University. Initially, I thought he was asking for salaries of ISU faculty. (We have two spiral-bound books that list the salaries of all persons working at ISU. By government mandate, all government employees must have their salaries freely available to the public.)

Once I found out he needed salary ranges for engineering chairs in California I went to Google. We found a few results that looked somewhat useful. He asked that I email him a URL, so he could look at it on his own.

After he left I wondered whether or not one of the librarians at this university in California could find the salary ranges that we needed, so I googled the university and found its library. They had a nifty chat-reference service embedded on one of their webpages, which I found to be easy to use. The librarian on the other end thought that this listing of salaries at their institution would be online, but after she/he couldn't find it, they told me they would retrieve the print copy. (When you are waiting for an answer on a chat service, two minutes seems like an eternity. We are spoiled with our quick technology.)

Not too long afterwards, the librarian returned and provided the salary range (they have more than one engineering department, thus they have more than one engineering chair) and a few other bits of information that she/he thought would be useful. Since I had previously emailed the patron, I was able to send along this additional information.

When someone asks for information about a specific institution or locale, it may not hurt to consult a librarian at that institution, or a librarian at the nearest public library.