Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Retaining the Learning

Do you ever worry that students do not remember the things they learned or should have learned in the library instruction classroom? Students tend to forget the instruction, especially if they do not apply it immediately and/or a few times on their own shortly afterward. Eric Frierson, from the University of Texas at Arlington, address this issue in an article titled: "Unforgettable Instruction: Designing Learning Experiences that Stick."

He argues this for learning to stay with the student, there need to be connections of the content to their own daily lives. "Our ability to recall is directly linked to how well that concept is connected with other concepts in our minds" (8). This makes a lot of sense. It reminds of an analogy or comparison another librarian at Utah Valley University uses. He compares database searching to fishing. Sometimes you have to try different baits to get the fish you want. Likewise, in doing research, we need to try different things and be patient. We may not find exactly what we want on our first cast.

In his article, Frierson suggests that librarians try using the ESP Game. At the beginning of a library instruction session, this might be particularly helpful in getting students to connect their own experience with the library experience. The ESP Game uploads a digital photograph (perhaps from Flickr) and asks that you enter words that describe that photo. Another person on the internet looks at the photo simultaneously and enters descriptors as well. When each of you enter the same word, you get points, and you move on to the next photo.

Designers of the game have thrown in a few wrinkles to make the game more challenging. Occasionally, the photo appears with a few taboo words that you may not enter, so you have to guess what your partner is thinking besides some of the most obvious words, which are prohibited. Frierson asks students to "shout out words for me to type. Inevitably, we'll get stuck on a picture--they'll be calling out word after word, but we'll be unable to move forward because we can't figure out what our partner is typing and match his description before he indicates he wants to 'pass' on the picture. This is a frustrating experience for students!" (9).

From this point, Frierson asks the question: "Why weren't we able to move forward?" An interesting discussion ensues, but Frierson asserts that students "answer in a variety of ways, tapping into their prior knowledge" (9). If someone lives in a different country, perhaps they use different words (truck vs. lorry or apartment vs. flat). Similarly, English speakers in other countries spell words differently. It could be as simple as understanding the idea that the other person concentrated on different things in the image (9). They could be thinking more abstractly, and we could be thinking more concretely.

After such a discussion, Frierson urges librarians to tie this exercise into the search process. He even asks the students how they would have done if they had only entered a single word for each image. They get the point that they would not have succeeded very well. Students can begin considering how authors think of a given topic. Which words would a specialist use when describing a disease? Frierson writes: "As they activate this prior knowledge you can then introduce new ideas to connect to it: the search mechanisms of databases" (9).

Frierson concedes that this activity may take as long as ten minutes, but it may create more mental connections for the students, thereby increasing the probability that they may remember the search tips you want them to learn.

Frierson, Eric. "Unforgettable Instruction: Designing Learning Experiences that Stick." LOEX QUARTERLY 36.3 (Fall 2009): 8-10.

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