For my instructional and training strategies class we ended the quarter by developing a soup to nuts review of how to plan a library instruction session, everything from what information you’ll need to get from the professor to how to assess student learning.
Lesson Plan: Reducing Fear and Increasing Information Literacy
The instruction session will have three related parts; the fear reduction that accompanies academic searching will be a theme throughout the session, since fear can be a major motivator that drives students to use non-academic sources in academic settings. Instruction on what an academic source is, demonstrating the distinction between academic and non-academic by demonstrating library resources, will be the main part of the session and will help a lot with allaying the fears of the students. A tour of the physical library will serve as the closing to the session and will help familiarize students with the library as a physical space, helping to reduce some of the fear about the library as a space for students to come use materials. In addition, the library tour will help to engage a couple different intelligences that may not get addressed during the classroom portion: visual/spatial learners will benefit from seeing the flow of materials, helping them to understand relationships between subjects and the bodily/kinesthetic learners will be engaged by the movement of walking around the library (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). These instructional strategies are best employed on lower division students (freshman or community college students), however they could be modified for more advanced students by making instruction more specific and in-depth.
When the professor schedules the instruction session have a conversation with them about their goals and expectations for their students in this instruction session. Get any specifics about an assignment that they will be working on at the time of the instruction session. Important information to get from the professor will include:
- Knowing whether you will be instructing freshman or seniors will be crucial to the level of instruction you prepare. If it is a class with a broad spread of student experience shoot for the middle, making adjustments based on level of expertise as you instruct.
Remember that expertise and class standing is not always the same thing. Ask the professor about how savvy he/she perceives their students to be when it comes to skills like researching using academic databases and utilizing library resources.
- Get a copy of the prompt and pertinent instructions so that there is no confusion and you know what parameters the students are working with.
How long the paper is will affect what type and amount of research the students will need to do, which affects what to instruct them on/what type of information they will be interested in learning.
- What phase of the project will the students be at when they come for their instructional session?
Aim to have the session when they have chosen their topics but before they will have already done a lot of research on their own. This will allow for built in relevance to your teaching, if you see them too late or too early the information will either lack context or be too late to be valuable.
- If this instruction session is independent of an assignment ask the professor what their goals are for the instruction session, what knowledge about the library and its resources they would like the students to gain. What is the professor’s motivation for having the students attend this session?
Asking for all of this information from the professor is a sort-of pre-test assessment of what is the students know already, what they will be expected to gain from the instruction session, and what kind of information the students will be looking to gain from the instruction session. This will all be incredibly valuable for planning the instruction, so ask as follow-up questions if the professor is not specific enough.
With both the professor’s goals and your intentions for the session established during a pre-test type assessment, you must figure out how to assess what the students learned from post-test assessment. If this instruction session was assignment-driven, ask the professor if you can see the works cited lists from the students’ finished papers to see what types of materials from what sources they used; checking student bibliographies is a non-invasive way to measure student learning (Hovde, 2000). This will serve as additional assessment of their learning, aim to get more immediate feedback as well. At the end of the instruction on how to find and use trusted resources let the students try it for themselves! Host the session in a computer lab, have the library instruction laptop cart reserved for this purpose, or have the students bring their own laptops (have the professor notify them ahead of time). Since students will have their topics picked out and you will have just taught them about available resources, have them explore their options. If this instruction session isn’t centered on an assignment give the students the opportunity to research a topic that they’re interested in writing about in the future, whetting their appetites for more research. This form of authentic assessment will build student confidence as you gauge what they’ve learned.
With the information from the professor, the goals you’ve established, and a method for assessing student success, planning the session should be simple. This framework can be adapted to teach different levels and subjects, but using a framework guided by the ARCS model of the session will ensure consistency of student engagement and learning.
Start the session with a video clip or other attention-getting visual. I particularly like the visuals provided by the trailer for the animated film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore . While only forty-seven seconds long it is a lovely piece that shows a beautiful, colorful library world but a hectic, black-and-white outside world. The imagery employed in the video will get the students’ attention and quickly re-orient them to from the distractions of the outside world and focus them on the library and what it has to offer.
If the students are in the instruction session as part of an assignment, then achieving relevance should be pretty simple. Go over the parameters of the assignment with them to make sure everyone understands the prompt and to ensure that the professor hasn’t changed the assignment since the two of you spoke. When talking with the students about the assignment ask them about what topic they have chosen to research and integrate that into the searching you do while demonstrating various tools and databases.
If this instruction session isn’t centered on an assignment, create a feasible instance in which they would want to have these skills. Ask the students to think about papers they’ve had to write in the past, where they’ve struggled and succeeded with research, and tell them about how what you’re about to teach them will help them research for papers in the future.
Now the students have their attention focused and understand why this information is important for them to learn. Start off by teaching students how to evaluate the quality and legitimacy of an online resource, either through instruction or by showing a video that accomplishes the same goals (such as It’s Legit!: How to identify quality sources online ). Looking at this instruction session through the lens of Eisenberg’s Big 6 principles, you have already achieved task definition through the relevance portion of the ARCS model, information seeking and location and access will be covered during your demonstration of library resources in the next section of the lesson, so while slightly out of the Big 6 original order teaching students what information is valuable falls into the use of information portion of the Big 6. By discussing what information is valuable before the information seeking process begins you can ensure that students do not seek improper or unhelpful information (Eisenberg, et al., 2002). With the basics of source evaluation under their belt, students will now be ready to learn how to find legitimate sources through the library.
With your computer screen projected for all to see, go to the library homepage. Invite students who have computers in front of them to follow along as you navigate to help them learn by doing as well as by watching your instruction. On the library homepage, demonstrate the features available: the main catalog in the center of the page, the live chat feature available 24-7 in the top right corner, the resources available quickly in the ‘Find It’ and ‘Library Tools’ toolbars on the left side of the page.
At this time, point out the ‘How Do I…?’ video series, accessible from the right-hand column. Demonstrate the different types of videos available in this series and remind students that they can watch these videos any time for answers on a broad range of library topics. The ‘How Do I…?’ series covers topics from how to use the library to how to properly cite, so they are useful at any step of the research process. Point out that if, after watching a tutorial on a given subject, they are still stuck, there is a chat box at the bottom of the page and they can get more help from a librarian through that service.
From the ‘How Do I…?’ page, navigate back to the home page. It’s time to demonstrate the tools available in the ‘Find It’ menu. Briefly high-light the direct access available through the first few items on the list, how if the student knows exactly what resource they want to access they can go straight to it from one of the options in this menu. However, the real gem for these students, since they’re just learning these tools and their applications, will be the subject guides. From the main subject guides page students will see just how vast the library’s offerings are, so at this point of the instruction there is the potential for them to get overwhelmed. Reassure them that although the selection of topics is large there should be no confusion about what topic they’ll want to click on. Pick the appropriate subject guide for the class to delve and demonstrate deeper.
In demonstrating the subject guides, remember the Big 6 and try to use those principles to guide your instruction. The first step, task definition, may seem simple if the students already have their assignment, but make sure the task they’ve identified is realistic within the scope of what they’re being asked. No one can write a paper on the history of the Holy Roman Empire in three pages, so make sure information needs are well defined. Optimally your instruction will focus on the information seeking, location + access, and use of information portions of the Big 6, so make sure everyone is on the same page before you leap into the heart of your instruction.
Once on the subject guide page there are a few features that should be pointed out immediately as features that are similar across subject guides. The first is the picture and contact information for the librarian who is the liaison to that department. During this whole instruction session make sure to hammer home to the students that there is always a librarian they can reach, whether virtually or in person, at any time of day or night if they have a question or research need. Fill them in a little about the role goals of department liaisons, telling them that should they have a subject specific need that this librarian is a great resource. The person pictured on this page very well may be you, in which case your assurances will be all the more credible.
Another feature to highlight that is fairly uniform across subject guides are the tabs across the top of the page. If students want to look for a specific type of resource in that subject area they can click on the appropriate tab (books and encyclopedias, articles, maps, etc) and be sent directly to the tools for selecting that particular type of resource. The e-Journals section of the subject guide is arguably the most daunting and it is where you will want to spend most of your instruction time. While the number of e-Journals/databases will vary by discipline there are a few commonalities central to instructing students in their use:
• Demonstration of range
- Show the students a couple of more broad, general databases.
• The more general databases are a good place to start research, get a grasp on where there is research being done.
• Another good way to use these more general databases is to see what kinds of terms are being used to describe the kind of information that the researcher is looking for.
- Show a couple of more specific databases based on the specialty of the class (Pacific Northwest history, cognitive psychology, Asian art history, etc).
• Once the students have used the more basic databases to grasp the terms they need and hone their topic these more specialized databases should be less intimidating.
• If possible, show databases with interfaces that they may already be familiar with, like EBSCO or ProQuest. Even though the databases you’ll be showing have the power to find more sophisticated sources the students will be put at ease by seeing a familiar interface.
• Depending on the level of students in the class, showing a very complex or intricate database may be appropriate. Student expertise (and not just class standing) is something to discuss with the professor while planning the session.
• Full text vs. abstract only/citation databases
- Demonstrate examples of both full text databases and abstract only/citation databases, indicating pros and cons for each type.
• For more advanced students, give a basic lesson on citation pearl growing in Web of Science or similar discipline-appropriate database.
- For abstract only databases, show students how to access articles either through other databases or services such as Inter-Library Loan.
Demonstrating pros and cons of various databases will give students an excellent idea about what type of information is available, as well as what information is useful under what circumstances. Let students know that searching is not a linear process but rather an iterative one. If using a certain set of terms doesn’t get them the information they’re looking for, try modifying terms. If the student is getting information that is not at the level they’re looking for (either too basic or too advanced), remind them that there are other databases that will meet their needs.
Confidence + Satisfaction
Now that you’ve achieved your major instructional goals it’s time to focus back on the ARCS model, this time establishing confidence and satisfaction for your students, which relates somewhat to the synthesis portion of the Big 6 model. An excellent way to help give students confidence is by letting them try out the skills they just learned, the satisfaction will come when they find useful information. This confidence building has the added benefit of serving as an assessment mechanism for you, the instructor. Using the computers you’ve booked or their own computers, have students search some of the databases you’ve just taught them about. If any of the students have already extensively used the databases you demonstrated, invite them to try out some other ones. In this safe environment of the classroom students will be able to try out their new searching skills with you there to help them should they need individual guidance. When they (invariably) meet with success using the demonstrated databases in the classroom setting they will feel more comfortable using these databases and other similar ones when researching on their own.
While students are searching on their own, make sure to note where students seem to be struggling in order to improve your instruction in the future. Remind students that they can contact you or any other librarian whenever they need research help or a refresher course on how to use certain databases or other library tools.
With the database instruction portion finished, it’s time to take a brief walking tour of the library, about the last 15 minutes of your instruction session. Highlight areas of interest to a broad range of students (quiet study areas, collaborative work areas or group study rooms, computer labs) as well as the portions of the stacks that may contain helpful resources for the class these students are enrolled in. Also point out the reference desk and remind students that they can always go there to talk to a librarian if they find themselves in need of assistance. Closing the instruction session at the reference desk, thank the students for their time and attention, and reminding them one last time that they can get in touch with you or any other librarian if they have any questions.
If you’ve pre-arranged with the professor, check the works cited once the students have turned in their papers. From these lists you’ll be able to learn if your teaching affected their research habits in a more long-term way, as opposed to just changing their thinking during the instruction session. From the citations from student papers you’ll be able to see if students utilized the databases you taught them, any other proprietary databases the library subscribes to, or if it seems they did all their searching on Google. These works cited lists will not solely contain resources from one of the categories; looking at overall trends in student research methods will help you to ascertain the successfulness of your teaching. This type of assessment will be most helpful in assessing lower division students since they will have the most time to benefit from further library instruction.
If the class is large, ask the professor for a sampling of works cited from a range of papers. While looking at the works cited for papers written by every student in an introductory level class such as a large freshman writing seminar is not an efficient use of your time it is valuable to be able to gain some insight as to how students realized your instruction goals.
Eisenberg, M. B., Johnson, D., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology, S. (2002). Learning and Teaching Information Technology–Computer Skills in Context. ERIC Digest.
Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1989). Multiple Intelligences Go to School: Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher, 18(8), 4–10.
It’s Legit!: How to identify quality sources online. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBUkcjUjnwo&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Hovde, K. (2000). Check the citation: library instruction and student paper bibliographies. Research Strategies, 17, 3–9.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore Trailer. (2010). Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/17164728