Musings on Library Instruction

As a member of several professional organizations (i.e. SAA, ALA, ACRL), I have the distinct pleasure of receiving various publications regularly in my mailbox (the physical one outside my apartment… not my email mailbox!).  When I first signed up for these memberships when I was still a student, I did not really understand the value of belonging to such organizations.  Even now, I wish I could take fuller advantage of the benefits – I long to attend a conference or participate in a mentorship program, but the former has been a bit financially out of reach and the latter I hope to set up in the near future.

But, as I was saying, every month or few weeks I am sent some archival or library publication.  Recently, I flipped through recent editions of both College & Research Libraries News and College & Research Libraries.  Not every issue has something that catches my eye, but in both of these I saw at least one article that interested me.

The article in College & Research Library News that caught my attention was Glen Ellen Starr Stilling’s “Learning to ‘light out after it with a club’:  The story of a faculty learning community for scholarly writing” (July/August 2012, 390-393, cont’d on p. 398).  Here Stilling discusses the development of a week-long faculty writing workshop followed by a year-long Faculty Learning Community program at Appalachian State University.*

This look into a faculty development program is intriguing – it certainly appears to have been quite successful, though not without the typical suite of “lessons learned.”  I like how, ultimately, by organizing a faculty development course with their needs placed squarely at the forefront of the program, Stilling and the other organizers were also able to infuse the meetings with ways in which the library could be of service to the faculty.  Very inspiring!

The other article that I want to mention was on page 366 of the July 2012 College & Research Libraries (73:4, 366-377).  There, Mery, Newby, and Peng pen an article titled “Why One-shot Information Literacy Sessions Are Not the Future of Instruction:  A Case for Online Credit Courses.”  Well, right away, I agree with the sentiment of the title!  After teaching Introduction to Global Change for 4 years, I designed a one-off information literacy session for our 100+ students last fall, many of whom were first year students who had very little understanding of primary sources, quality online searching, and critical evaluation of resources.  This was an interesting experience from my perspective, and I do think students were grateful for the session.  Indeed, their final projects were better, in my opinion, than they had been the previous four years.

Still, I think the session was more of a band-aid than one which created lasting information literacy gains for our students.  Mery et al.’s article examines how online courses to build information literacy among students for particular courses compare to the typical one-off library instruction session.  Figure 1 in their paper says it all:  students who took an online information literacy course whilst taking an introductory English class achieved a statistically significant higher level of information literacy by the end of the course relative to a control group, a group given some instruction by their English instructor, and a group given a one-off 50 minute instruction session by a librarian.  Their assessment of information literacy involved a multiple-choice exam testing seven different skills:

  1. Developing a research strategy
  2. Selecting finding tools
  3. Searching
  4. Using finding tool features
  5. Retrieving sources
  6. Evaluating sources
  7. Documenting sources
  8. Understanding economic, legal and social issues

Sure, there are issues with the study and subsequent analysis.  Fine.  But, I have a hunch they are on to something – clearly the one-off instruction session (though it WAS shown to increase information literacy achievement in this study) is not the only way to go, nor is it necessarily the most effective.

I’ve been kicking around an idea in my head for a while now:  at some point, I’d like to design a more robust information literacy suite of resources for the Global Change course, perhaps in small video segments with little quizzes or hands-on practice exercises.  Separate short video clips could cover a few relevant databases and search and retrieval strategies for each, evaluation of the resources retrieved (Is this peer reviewed?  Scholarly?  Primary literature?  Do I trust their results?), and finally how to cite their sources properly.  They could be assigned one short video each week to watch and their lab assignment for the week could incorporate a question that might relate to what they learned.  For example, fairly early on in the course they pick their project topics for their final group project.  We ask them to submit an annotated bibliography as an assignment around the end of the first third of the course.  In addition to noting whether they cited their sources properly, we could ask them what databases they used and what their search strategy was.  Later in the course, we could ask each group member to take an important resource for their projects and analyze it:  explain whether it is peer-reviewed and scholarly and how they know this, talk about whether they agree with the results and why, etc.

I will keep you all posted, dear readers, as to whether any of this comes to fruition.

*Note:  The very first (and one of the only!) football games I have attended at the University of Michigan was against Appalachian State in 2007, a game that seemed to mark the beginning of an end which seems to only be ending now!

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