Showing posts with label lecturing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lecturing. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Clickers: An Engaging Tool for Library Instruction

In 2008 Anne C. Osterman published an article online for librarians about the potential of student response systems (SRS) or clickers in the library instruction setting.  College & Undergraduate Libraries published it with the title "Student Response Systems: Keeping the Students Engaged."  (It appears the the print version came out first in 2007.)  She introduces the topic by mentioning many factors that go against participation in the library instruction classroom: unfamiliar setting, short opportunity (one shot at teaching library skills), and content many would not consider exciting. 

Librarians do what they can to invite participation.  They will work to make the instruction tied directly to an assignment, develop hands-on exercises, create handouts, and sometimes divide classes into groups to work together (50).  Osterman writes: "These tools do little, however, to help with one more inherent difficulty of library instruction: a wide variety of experience levels among student" (50).  Then she identifies "the two greatest fears of a library instructor [...]: (1) boring the students because they've seen it all before; and (2) losing the students because the territory is too foreign to their knowledge and experience.  Both lead students to tune out" (50).

"bored-students."  by cybrarian77 on

This resonates with my own experience.  These are two of my greatest fears, and I have wondered how to deal with this.  Well, the most obvious thing to do and what Osterman calls "the last tool in the box: asking the students questions" (50).  Unfortunately, this does not always work, and Osterman recognizes that all the previous difficulties just mentioned will make this effort less effective as well.  Encouragingly, she writes: "Never fear--there is another solution" (50).  The Student Response System can make a difference, increasing participation, engaging students of all personalities and abilities, and offering a mechanism that prompts the instructor to adjust in the classroom needs and address deficiencies without belaboring the subjects students have mastered already.
Osterman observes that instructors can ask students questions spontaneously or "on the fly" (51).  She suggests questions like:
  1. Have you ever used X (JSTOR, Academic Search CompleteCQ Researcher, etc.)?
  2. What kinds of materials do you think you would find in X (the library catalog, the Special Collections digital archives, the Primo search, etc.)?
  3. Should you cite Wikipedia in a research paper?  Should you do X?
Osterman explains that the polling system remains open, then students can see what everyone else has answered (51).  Often this means that students who are embarrassed for answering incorrectly see that they are not the only ones who do not understand, so their embarrassment decreases dramatically, and they focus more on the learning than the embarrassment.

Osterman describes the two types of clicker systems: radio frequency and infrared.  Plus, she identifies some of the pros and cons of each (51).

In the next section of her article, she addresses the question: Why use clickers?  Citing the extant educational literature, she give at least five reasons:
  1. Combat passive learning environment
  2. Promote active learning
  3. Help with participation problems
  4. Provide instant feedback
  5. Interrupt lecture.
Additionally, she address the anonymous nature of the system: "Some instructors believe that anonymity makes students more comfortable and likely to participate, and this has been supported by research in students' opinions of these systems" (52).  As mentioned previous, because of the anonymity, fear of embarrassment is eliminated or at least lessened (52).  What really gets me excited is its potential for increasing the level of learning that takes place in the library classroom.  Osterman claims: "Also by encouraging students to make an actual decision about a question, the SRS makes them less likely to sit back and let the information wash over them unabsorbed.  Instead they evaluate a question and answer with engaged minds" (52).

"Law Students Use PRS."  by jonalltree on

As you can tell, this article really caught my interest; I can hardly stop from quoting from it.  The next section talks about how library instructors can and ought to adjust their instruction when using an SRS tool.  She talks about an average library workshop, then suggests that student questions and answers can determine the little parts of instruction that should be taught once more, passed over entirely, or explained more thoroughly.  With some forethought, instructors could devise some questions to generate discussions.  Likewise, sensitive questions could be asked that could then be compared to published data.  Along these lines Osterman suggested that students could be asked about their incomes, and then those figures could be compared with data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau as it pertains to their particular locale, for example (53). 

The system could be used to ask students to predict what might happen.  When they are required to answer, they become more committed and, thus, engaged.  She offers a pair of questions related to Boolean operators, which invite the student to predict if more or fewer results will be retrieved.  For the serious-about-learning types, she tells how some SRS systems collect the data, so they can be analyzed, which would allow for instructors to adjust their methods even more (54). 

We often hear that technology should not replace teaching, that it is just a tool to enhance learning.  This is true.  We should remember this.  As with any technology, pros and cons exist.  Osterman warns that with this technology less content may be taught, it may "distract instructors from their teaching," and students may forget clickers, use them to cheat, and may even walk away with them.  Fortunately, the benefits of learning "might easily outweigh" the con of less content being taught, and libraries who buy their own systems would not need to worry about students forgetting their clickers, though students could walk out the door with them at the end of class if one wasn't careful (54).

The last section of the article discusses "The Experience of American University Library" where Anne Osterman works.  In it she talks a bit more about vendors, different systems, training library instructors, necessary adjustments, some sample questions, using the SRS in library training sessions, and questions to ask with the system.  Encouragement and support should be given to those using the system for the first time.  Making the system available for individuals to practice with is best (55). 

From the experiences of her colleagues as well as her own, Anne Osterman writes: "Just as many beginning library instructors try to teach too much in the short amount of time they have and gradually slim their material down to an amount that is digestible, some instructors found that their first attempts in creating questions for a class were too complex" (56).  She recommends that librarians use the same questions in a series of classes; this will help instructors know how one class is different from another.  Again, the question "Have you used X resource?" may be a great standby.  "Overall, the response from library instructors at American University Library who have used the system has been very positive" (56). 

In summary, Osterman repeats that anonymity and novelty of the system generate an engagement with library instruction that increases learning.  If money is an issue, then a home-grown system may work or a "Web-based voting system" (56).  The short list of references looked helpful as well.

This article drove home the idea that polling students can really increase engagement, participation, and learning in the classroom.  Anonymity helps students participate more readily, and simple questions need to be the norm.  I really liked the sample questions she included.  This was quite helpful.

Work Cited
Osterman, Anne C.  "Student Response Systems: Keeping the Students Engaged."  College & Undergraduate Libraries 14.4 (2008): 49-57.  Print.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Problem-Based Learning Article by Barbara Ferrer Kenney

Have you ever wondered how to get out of a teaching rut? Many librarians continue to offer demonstrations on databases and library catalogs, which include a lot of talking. In many cases students do not get engaged and do not retain the information, nor do they develop information-literacy skills. Barbara Ferrer Kenney wrote an article which was published a year ago titled: "Revitalizing the One-Shot Instruction Session Using Problem-Based Learning (PBL)."

Kenney cites the Department of Chemical Engineering at McMaster University when she defines problem-based learning in the following terms: "any learning environment where the problem drives the learning" (386). Essentially, students must become owners of their own learning and actively participate in answering questions, solving problems, and working together in groups. Kenney affirms that "PBL is 'worth the effort' because of the similarities between the goals of PBL and information literacy instrction" (386). The hands-on component requires that they pick up on skills and knowledge along the way as they work to solve the problem presented them.

For instructors, Kenney acknowledges that it can be difficult and scary to relinquish some authority and control in the classroom, but the results of this kind of instruction apparently surpass that of basic instruction. Students develop critical thinking skills, abilities to find, evaluate, and use information while collaborating in groups. The group work fosters their communication skills. to the degree that they engage in the problem-based activity they increase their skills and interest levels in ways that will likely lead to life-long learning.

Instructors need to remember that their work in the classroom may not be as intensive; however, their preparations before the class begins may require more time and collaboration with the faculty member. Kenney emphasizes the importance of creating an outline "that relies on defined goals and objectives based on a problem that captures student interest" (387). Matching a session's objectives with the ACRL Information Literacy Standards takes time.

The article discusses how to develop the problem, how to create the outline, how to deal with some of the challenges, and how to follow up and assess the experience. Overall, this article provided solid reasons for adapting this teaching methodology, while also offering enough useful ideas on how to implement this change effectively. Certainly, a radical change like this requires a bit of courage as Kenney states here: "While the process may require librarians to step out of their comfort zone in the delivery of the session, it does provide the opportunity for students and faculty to experience library instruction in a new and dynamic way" (391).

Consider problem-based learning as a viable option for your library instruction. Students may come away having learned more and gained a greater interest in their research. This active approach thrusts students into a learning mode that forces them to think and act more than they would in a demonstration where they would passively receive information, which would not be retained as readily.

Kenney, Barbara Ferrer. "Revitalizing the One-Shot Instruction Session Using Problem-Based Learning." Reference & User Services Quarterly 47.4 (2008): 386-91.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Feedback from Library Instruction Interviews

Today I conducted an instruction meeting with the librarian at Idaho State University's Eli M. Oboler Library and reported back to them on the feedback I had received after conducting interviews with each of them. Librarians at ISU are required to teach a certain number of hours in our instruction program. As the Coordinator of Instruction, I want to help them provide quality instruction.

Take a look at some of the ideas they suggested for improvement. Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Friday, July 18, 2008

My Teaching Philosophy

Teaching effectively demands great rigor and intellectual effort. Few individuals possess innate abilities to teach well, rather most successful teachers have become so after diligent efforts to understand the nature of teaching and learning. I believe that the best teachers recognize what their students need most and develop practical strategies for accomplishing those ends. This iteration of my teaching philosophy relies heavily on the ideas of Robert Leamnson whose ideas are still fresh in my mind after reading his book Thinking About Teaching and Learning. This written philosophy will enable me to stand firm in promoting student learning habits that will empower them to achieve their long-term goals; I have perceived that many student attitudes impede their learning powers and ultimately their maximum potential.

Learning requires the cooperation of the brain. In biological terms Leamnson provides this definition: “Learning is defined as stabilizing, through repeated use, certain appropriate and desirable synapses in the brain” (5). Therefore, continual use of the same synapses would not constitute real learning; instead, creating new synapses and neural roads within the brain indicate that learning has taken place. In this physical sense learning is an actual physical activity that may indeed cause the head to hurt as a result of the growth that has taken place. Additionally, I believe that learning can occur throughout one’s entire lifetime.

Robert Leamnson argues that “language is at the heart of the matter” (7). Presently, his arguments make sense to me on many levels, because teachers still need tangible or oral evidence from students that learning has taken place. Traditionally, instructors require students to give presentations, take tests, and write papers. Each of these activities relies on language skills in the forms of speaking, reading, and writing. I believe that the best teachers repeatedly persuade and coax students to participate in all these forms of language skills.

In today’s society too many individuals believe that they can obtain certain goals without going through the legwork those goals require. An article (I believe it may have been in The Atlantic) I read recently discussed the dirty work of teaching in under-privileged universities and community colleges where the freshmen are very unprepared for the rigors of academic work. He ends the article with an allusion to one film that all freshmen seem to know—The Wizard of Oz. In the end the scarecrow receives a diploma and suddenly he can think, yet his spouting off of facts hardly constitutes real thinking.

While the author didn’t mention it, Dorothy had to be told the solution to her dilemma in the end. Today’s students seem to be like the scarecrow, Dorothy and Shakespeare’s Ophelia, they want all the answers and diplomas given to them. When this happens it really does not prepare them for future challenges in life. I believe that students need to be challenged in and out of the classroom; they may know what they want, but they likely do not understand the kind of work accomplishing that goal entails.

I believe that my teaching efforts make a difference. Evidence of good teaching may not always be easy to measure; however, articulate students who can express themselves through speaking and writing may be evidence of a teacher’s influence. My confidence, or lack thereof, as a teacher will be a significant factor in my abilities to persuade students to learn. I trust that strategic preparation will increase my knowledge, interest, and confidence in the classroom, which will in turn influence the students to engage with the subject matter and learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

The field of teaching and learning includes many different schools of thought. Adherence to one particular teaching method will not produce the greatest amount of learning among my students; instead, a healthy variety of techniques enacted at strategic moments will increase the desired results. Therefore, lectures, group work, dialogues with students in class, short essays, quizzes, handouts, guest lectures, term papers, exams, etc. may all prove to be useful in promoting the restructuring of student brains—learning in other words.

Ultimately, my ability to love the students will determine my success or failure as a teacher. Love will prompt me to look students in the eyes, listen to them, respect them as real individuals with a history and personal connections to others, and prepare for class adequately. If I love the students I will be less willing to talk about myself and more willing to treat them as friends—not criticizing them in a way that will demean or insult them. I will work to involve all in the classroom and praise them for positive efforts and participation in the class. I will seek to make the class interesting and challenging.


1. The ideas in this philosophy have been heavily influenced by Robert Leamnson’s book titled Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning and First Year College and University Students. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 1999.

2. For more on the Ophelia Syndrome read Thomas G. Plummer’s “Diagnosing and Treating the Ophelia Syndrome.” Thinking About Thinking: A Collection of Essays, Revised Edition. Ed. M. Kip Hartvigsen. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999. 181-190.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lecturing & Participation

Today I observed an instruction session taught by one of my colleagues. She had fifty minutes to talk about how to do research and search the library catalog. While she said otherwise, I thought she looked and acted in a composed manner. She did not hurry through the material or raise her voice unnecessarily. She frequently asked the students if they had any questions and sincerely wanted to help them.

I liked her approach. She began by talking about her experience in doing research, particularly how she begins a project by gathering background information in dictionaries or encyclopedias. She brought reference materials for all to see, emphasizing the importance of gathering basic information. These resources can really be useful, because they generally include a list of bibliographic references that they can then go look up for more information. By looking in the reference materials, students can also find buzzwords they had not considered previously, and then they can use these keywords in their searches.

As she explained the importance of gathering background information in the early stages of research she drew an inverted triangle on the board. The broad part of the triangle represents the background-finding stage, and then students can start consulting books for more specific information. She did not write in the point of the triangle, but I speculate that students could consult articles for even more specific information. In the next class on Friday she will teach this same group about searching in the databases for articles. Of course, she might consider the student's thesis to be the point in the triangle, but I like the idea of articles as it most nearly matches the other options, that is reference materials and books.

Anyway, the instructional session went rather well if you ask me. In the future perhaps I could remember to go a little slower or talk a little quieter. My colleague mentioned how she was walking by the instruction room a few years ago, and she could hear the library instructor talking so high, fast, and so loud that she determined students could possibly be learning as well as they could otherwise.