Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Library Survey for Upper-division Students

A week ago I tried something new.  I used Poll Daddy to gather feedback from students who attended a library workshop.  In retrospect it seems I ought to have done a bit more research and prepared myself better for responding to the responses.

The free Poll Daddy account allows for the following possibilities:
  • 200 survey responses per month
  • 10 questions per survey
  • Content contains Polldaddy links
  • Basic reports for polls, surveys, & quizzes
  • 1 User account
Because I can only have 200 survey responses in a given month, I capped the number of survey responses to 50.  Only 23 students attended the class, and out of that number only 18 completed the short, 10-question survey.  My idea was to ask questions about their library research knowledge, so I could understand where to direct my instruction focus.  It did help a little, but it may be that I abandoned the effort a little early.  Requiring students to enter the web address to access the survey seemed to be one obstacle.  In the future it might be better to have the web address printed out on a handout or sitting at their desk when they arrive to class.  Using Poll Everywhere might be another option, since students can take the quiz or answer individual questions instantly with a mobile device.

If you have time or interest, take the survey.  As of today, only 32 more people can take the survey.  A subsequent blog post will analyze the results of those who attended the class I taught last week.

At one point I had thought to direct them to this blog, where they could click the link and then take the quiz, but I was uncertain about sharing my blog with them, plus with only 50 responses I could not find out how to activate the blog post just before class started.  Admittedly, I didn't want responses from anyone not a part of the class--at least not initially.

My original message:
Please take a few minutes to complete this survey:
Thank you.  This should help us in our class today.

Photo taken by John Haydon and posted on
Asking for feedback and understanding what knowledge the students come to the library with has been a concern of mine for some time, though I have not always acted on this.  In my opinion this is inhibiting me from becoming a better library instructor.

An article I re-read recently talks about this.  JaNae Kinikin and Shaun Jackson of Weber State University wrote a short article for LOEX Quarterly in Fall 2010 titled "Using a Back and Forth Presentation Format to Engage Students in Introductory English Composition Courses."  They revised their library instruction plan for English composition classes.  They adopted TurningPoint technology to ask questions.  Some of those questions asked for basic library knowledge:
  1. Have you ever used a library catalog?
  2. Have you ever used an article database?
  3. When you begin a research project, where do you start?
This article and this portion of it in particular has been something I have remembered off and on since I first read it.  I should look in my blog archive to see if I have already written about it.  Specifically, I recall that they endeavored to "incorporate humor, allowing instructors to engage students and put them at ease.  They also offer an avenue for discussion" (5).  To illustrate this point they shared the answers for question one:
  • Yes
  • No
  • What the heck is a library catalog?
Naturally, they have had to adjust their teaching styles as they have adopted usage of this technology in the classroom.  One of the things I enjoyed in the article the second time around deals with their description of making the library instruction more interactive.  Because they teach three resources (at least in 2009 they did), they break up the instruction to demonstrate one resource, then students must work on the section of the worksheet that pertains to that resource.  This straightforward method seems like one that would be a good model to follow.  At times I have done this to one extent or another.

Responses to the questions posed to students can guide the library instructor to understand how much to teach.  Varying the pace keeps student interest as well.  Students usually appreciate efforts made by instructors to gauge their knowledge base.  Instructors who do this may well succeed in avoiding the experience described by Leza Madsen in her "Book Review: Why Don't Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom by Daniel T. Willingham (Jossey-Bass, 2008).  She recounts the oft-repeated allusion (at least in my experience) to Ferris Bueller's Day Off where the dull high school teacher drones on and on, then asks a question followed up with one of my favorite movie quotes (too easy to remember I suppose): "Anyone.  Anyone?"

Asking good questions and doing it with technology may prevent that moment of dead silence in the classroom.  Let's hope so anyway.

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