reflective journaling: my latest dabbling in instruction assessment

Since becoming an instruction librarian, I’ve always battled with assessment. I have been at institutions that used a mini quiz and student feedback form. I usually knew what the answers to the questions on these forms would be, and they usually showed signs of regurgitation and didn’t provide me with data to help improve my instruction.

The past few years I tried minute papers. Students were given a half-sheet of paper with two questions. Only one was mandatory. I asked students to reflect on what they learned and what still confused them – an open-ended, one or two sentence response or bullet points. I also asked if they had any specific questions they would like answered. This allowed the quieter students to get an email from me rather than raising their hand in class.

However, like the mini quiz, I knew the answers I’d get based on student responses during class, working individually with students, tuning in to the classroom environment, and reflecting with the faculty member afterwards. I still really wasn’t gathering data to help me improve my instruction. I knew what worked and what didn’t before reading the minute papers.

In a moment of insanity (or procrastination) I analyzed all my minute papers. Not surprisingly, information management was the most useful practice learned during a class. For most of my classes, this means Zotero. In some ways, students are getting better at finding sources (we’ll leave evaluation out of this for the moment) because there are so many ways to, well, find sources. They can blindly swing a bat a hit something. But, simultaneously, they are finding more sources and need to both evaluate and organize. Students immediately see how an information management tool like Zotero can improve their research process in every class. “I wish I knew about this earlier” is a common comment left on minute papers as well as the simpler “amazing” or “wow.”

Learning about specific resources was the second most-listed practice. This makes sense in a liberal arts setting. Many of the students in my classes are non-majors and don’t know about subject-specific databases or tools. Learning about databases like ArtStor (art) or RILM (music) was much appreciated.

A close third was search strategy and topic development. Research exercises learned here include concept mapping or other brainstorming activities, visual analysis, Boolean logic, and advanced search options in databases.

After these top three, practices learned by students move in many directions. One that is greatly appreciated but often goes undiscussed is finding books in the library. Students responses included simply “I didn’t know where the books actually were” to “I love walking around and finding books together. Could have done this for hours!” When I walk with students into the stacks, either to browse or find books they first located in the library catalog, I often hear about how many times they’ve gotten lost in the stacks or how they asked for help and someone “pointed at a door and said go up on floor” (she left the library sans book). I’ve heard enough sad stories of students not finding books that I almost always leave time in my sessions for searching the stacks. Students tend to be a lot more chatty outside the classroom, too, so I can find out a bit more about their needs and any research anxiety. I now get quite a few emails from students that begin “you once helped me find a book in the library  – thanks. Now I need…”

But, as I stated,I knew what worked and what didn’t before reading the minute papers. Because the goal of my assessment methods is to improve my instruction, I’ve ditched the minute papers. As if knowing I was struggling with instruction assessment, someone on Twitter posted a link to a 2009 article from College & Undergraduate Libraries, “A Reflective Teaching Journal: An Instructional Improvement Tool for Academic Librarians” by Elizabeth K. Tompkins. She provides a literature review on the subject and discusses her own practice of keeping a reflective journal to improve her instruction. 

This semester, when I’m contacted for an instruction session, I begin a Google document. I record the details of the class (when, where, how many students) and any email exchange or notes from a meeting with faculty. Then I plan the session, usually pulling from exercises and notes from previous instruction sessions. I wrap up planning by reflecting on the ACRL Framework. This helps me evaluate my lesson plans and consider language or targeted questions I might use in class.

After the session, I record details of the class. I include how much time was spent on a given activity and questions asked. Then I reflect on the class. Were students engaged? How did I know? Were questions asked on task or indicated students were falling behind? What response did I get from the faculty member – was he/she even engaged (or even present) and how can I follow up with them for any possible evaluation of long-term learning?

So far, I’ve found this activity very rewarding. Reflective journaling requires me to pause after a session and document both my actions and my thoughts. It isn’t very time consuming and in the future I should be able to text-mine the documents to look at my teaching practice holistically. When I return to a class in the spring (or next fall), I will not only have a planning document drafted, but a full reflection on how the class went and therefore how, in this next class, I might improve.

alao instruction interest group workshop, part 2

Michelle Millet’s presentation was our morning exercise. In the afternoon we had presentations on one-shot instruction and I’ll highlight two.

Vera Lux presented on multiple literacies in library instruction. She mentioned visual, digital, media, data, and meta literacies and mentioned that they began with a need to address subject-specific (discipline) literacies. All of these literacies, including the new standards from ACRL, include elements about finding, interpreting, evaluating, using, and creating.

Vera then detailed two instruction activities. In one, she gives students popular articles of studies on science research. The students use the popular article to find the original study discussed in the popular article. They then do a visual analysis of both articles – just on visual facts, get the gist of the article (popular versus original scholarly). Students also find what the popular article is saying about the science research and then find the discussion component of the scholarly article to compare the two articles Did the popular article do justice to the original study? I think this could work well for the CRAP test (currency, reliability, authority, and purpose) and teaches them to maximize their research time.

In her second example of multiple literacy instruction, Vera tells students “You used this photograph of a track & field athlete crossing the finish line in a web project. You just learned that it would be unethical and likely even illegal to use the image without permission if it is copyrighted. You don’t remember how you found the image and the project is due tomorrow.”

Students then find the image (need to determine keywords from image) and trace it back to original source to see if they can use it. If it’s copyrighted, they need to find a suitable replacement that is ok to use (i.e.: athletes crossing finish line – winning, victory, successful – find one with similar idea but no sports). This makes students think about ethics and copyright as well as use images meaningfully.

Melissa Bauer talked about using problem-based learning (PBL) in the one shot session. Problem-based learning is a constructivist approach. This means that knowledge isn’t something that can be given. Rather, students need to actively discover knowledge and reflect on it, constructing knowledge from one’s own experiences. It is student centered and inquiry based; the problem drives the learning/solution.

Melissa sets up a problem based on student learning outcomes for the class, either from real world current events or course content. This way it is relevant to the student. In developing the problem, Melissa must make it authentic, collaborative (comprehensive – takes time to answer; controversial problem makes them choose sides), and reflective (resources support solution).

She has students work in small groups with a limited amount of time to accomplish solution. She breaks up the typical one-shot 50 minutes:

5 minutes – review and analyze

10 minutes – librarian instruction

25 minutes – find & evaluate

10 minutes – class debriefing

The librarian’s role in problem-based learning is as facilitator, guiding students through the learning process, asking probing questions, limiting direct instruction, and coaching students.

PBL makes the connection between search terms, resources, and quality of information because students are finding and applying information in a short amount of time.

striving to be a better teacher, ending up a better person

One of my summer goals is to examine my information literacy instruction. In preparation, I’m starting some reading (what librarian wouldn’t?). While I feel comfortable with my current classroom techniques, I have never set aside time to reflect on my teaching. I’ve started reading Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators.

In her introduction, Booth outlines four elements of information literacy:

~ reflective practice: more than just assessment; revising your skill set as you teach and learn from that teaching

~ educational theory: learning theory, instructional theory, and curriculum theory

~ teaching technologies: getting comfortable teaching with technologies in the classroom, online, and blended

~ instructional design: integrating reflection, theory, and technology into teaching (xvii)

She also suggests the USER method to help prepare, instruct, and evaluate:

~ understand: identify problem, analyze scenario

~ structure: create targets, involve & extend

~ engage: develop materials, deliver instruction

~ reflect: assess impact, revise & reuse (xviii)

While I don’t feel knowledgable about educational theory, information literacy and the USER method seem very much like what I already do in the classroom.

So why do I feel like it isn’t enough?

A few pages later, in chapter 1, Booth lists some challenges to library instruction including “teaching librarians tend to have more limited interactions with learners, meaning that it can be difficult to see immediate or long-term evidence of our interventions” and “materials and lessons are often repeated, which can generate a sense of redundancy or malaise.” (5)

I can see these challenges keeping me from enthusiastically examining my instruction while simultaneously feel I need to improve my classroom skill set.

I also find a personal dilemma in one of the first exercises of the book. Booth asks the reader to list three strong instructors or presenters and identify three characteristics that made them personally effective.

I’ve been staring into the distance at a total loss. The teachers and presenters that immediately come to mind are very much unlike me personally – loud, animated, energetic. If I were to be even one of these three characteristics I’d frighten people who know me well. So how did my ideal teacher become someone who is not my ideal self?

Yet, when asked about the characteristics of my worst teachers, as Booth does, I’d list the same three. But there is a key difference between the two and that is where I need to focus: authenticity.

A common characteristic among successful teachers is authenticity. (9) Booth refers to authenticity through the image of the soapbox and “the infectious interest you can create by communicating with conviction.” (10)

I think students notice my “intensity of expression” when I’m working with them and become absorbed in the content. (10) But it isn’t central to my teaching and perhaps reworking this for full impact could improve my instruction. She says “half of your soapbox consists of sharing your expertise, but the other half consists of sharing your self.” (11) I have probably held back a little bit of both – expertise and self – in my teaching because I’ve strived to maintain authority without becoming authoritative.

Booth has elected to be more informal and more personal because it works for her and she acknowledges “sacrificing a modicum of my ‘authority’ in order to create a more accessible tone is a risk.” (11)

I’m willing to risk authority to be authentic. It will make me a better teacher, and a better person too.

emerging roles for academic librarians

I finally had a moment to listen to the archive of ACRL Art’s Virtual Midwinter Meeting. I was particularly interested in Joe Clark’s presentation about the Emerging Roles for Academic Librarians. He mentioned that we are moving away from collection-center service to an engagement-centered one. As this happens, the role of subject specialists and reference librarians is changing. This correlates with the recent publication from ARL New Roles for New Times: Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries.

One of the virtual places he pointed us toward is the University of Illinois’ Subject Specialist Task Force Report. At first glance, these tasks seem obvious for a subject liaison. However, there are responsibilities creeping in to the role: such as creating exhibitions, “serve as a resource for scholarly communications, copyright, open access, and the institutional repository” (that’s a hefty load), involvement in fundraising, and outreach to the local community. There is also a whole section just on digital initiatives.

These roles are similar to the ones in the works at Kent State. Joe focused on four:

Programming & Event Planning

Kent State’s libraries host events – over 20 in a year. At the Performing Arts Library, Joe has many recurring events. Open Mic Lunch happens once a month; students and community members can perform. The Director Speaks series usually happens twice a semester. Performing arts directors talk about their approach to their work, usually the week before the theatre production opens. The Colloquium Series covers all of the performing arts and allows faculty, students, and others to present their research or ideas.

Outreach, Engagement, & Promotion

Programming ties in well to outreach and promotion. An event can bring new users to the library. The Performing Arts Library has an annual open house with live performances. There is a Welcome Week that attracts students who haven’t yet discovered the Performing Arts Library space. Student Appreciation Day is simply hot drinks and cookies. We all know cookies will bring a crowd!

Joe reminds us to be patient – attendance may not be large the first few times and some events may be complete duds, never to be tried again. Events take time and energy but the rewards are well worth it!


This isn’t about going out and getting donations. But we can help to identify donors and encourage development officers to bring donors to library events. So programming leads to outreach which leads to fundraising.

User Assessment

Assess user needs through surveys, focus groups, or even informal means. By continually assessing we can continually improve our services and spaces.


science & art at denison

Last Friday I co-presented Embracing the STEM to STEAM Initiative: The Library as Bridge Between Science and Art. This was the second time the Natural Sciences Librarian, Moriana Garcia, and I presented about science and art. Part of the presentation centers on what we are doing at Denison University to encourage and support cross-disciplinary conversation.

The STEM acronym has been around since the 1990s and stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Government bodies like the National Science Foundation and educational institutions believe that these disciplines hold the answers to many of our global issues. STEM careers are promising for students growing up in a troubled economy.

However, as K-12 and higher education started pushing STEM learning, many people were concerned about the disregard for the arts and the humanities. STEAM developed from this backlash, adding Arts (and design) to STEM. The Rhode Island School of Design is a strong proponent of the STEM to STEAM movement. One of the primary objectives of the STEAM movement is to “influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.”

The emphasis in that quote is mine. STEAM recognizes that arts education teaches creativity and critical thinking, key components of innovation. The government is taking notice. The National Science Foundation has supported workshops on STEM to STEAM. There is also a Congressional STEAM caucus that “aims to change the vocabulary of education to recognize the benefits of both the arts and sciences and how these intersections will benefit our country’s future generations.”

So, what are we doing at Denison to support STEAM? As librarians, we are excellently positioned to foster cross-disciplinary dialogue. While we work independently as subject specialists in the sciences and the arts, we come together as librarians. The library is a neutral space – outside the studio and the lab – for scientists and artists to gather.

We’ve started small. Before I arrived at Denison, Moriana began creating library displays about science in the arts and vice versa. And, for science displays she’s always included works of art that echo the theme (i.e. a sculpture of a lizard for a display on reptiles). It’s simple and subtle, but it’s a start. Moriana has been on the committee that creates displays for many years. I have just joined…so who knows what’s to come!

Purchasing books and media that have an interdisciplinary approach is also easy. There are beautiful books on art and science; a few recent additions:

Bio Design: Nature, Science, Creativity (William Myers, 2012)
Artists in Labs: Networking in the Margins (editor, Jill Scott, 2010)
Imagining Science: Art, Science, and Social Change (editors Sean Caulfield & Timothy Caulfield, 2008)
Laboratorium (editors, Hans Ulrich Obrist & Barbara Vanderlinden)

And for those librarians wondering, Science and Art is a subject heading! Moriana is purchasing image-heavy science books. Moriana also started a Science@Dension blog and Visualization Gallery.

Like all good librarians, we created a subject guide on science and art. It’s geared toward faculty and provides resources on STEM to STEAM and the latest collaborations between scientists and artists. As part of this guide, I have a! page on Science and Art.

Last winter we initiated a Science and Art Interest Group at Denison. The group is made up of any faculty interested in the relationship and collaborative possibilities between the two disciplines. Our initial meeting had about 30 people. We have decided to take the group in two directions. There is a reading group for faculty who are interested in STEAM pedagogy and methods of teaching creativity. We hope to start an immersion group this year – where we hold hands-on workshops in studios and labs, learning how artists and scientists work in their spaces.

Our current project is an artwork proposal for the Green Revolution exhibition to be hosted at the Denison Museum in the spring. Green Revolution is a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition that provides “education and inspiration for protecting our planet through sustainable living.” Six of us from the Science and Art group proposed (and had accepted!) and “eco-zibit” about fracking in Ohio. Stay tuned for more on that ambitious project.

Overall it’s been an interesting experience to work collaboratively with another librarian on fostering interdisciplinary conversation. The process is slow but the connections I’ve made with faculty have been wonderful. We are planning a November meeting with the Science and Art group to discuss 3D printing, a topic that is trending in science, art, and libraries!

transforming liaison roles in research libraries

I attended the ARL webinar Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries. The discussion stemmed from a recent publication, New Roles for New Times: Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries by Janice M. Jaguszewski and Karen Williams.

During the webinar Jaguszewski and Williams highlighted the findings of their research about the new responsibilities and skill sets expected of liaisons. They reported on six trends:

Develop user-centered library skills

  • new approaches to collection development – methods include approval plans, patron-driven acquisitions, and consortial collaboration
  • merged service points for reference and circulation – patrons shouldn’t have to know how library staffing is organized in order to get help; a singular service point would also free up liaisons for more skilled work (who would still be available through a referral system)
  • library instruction – moving away from the one-shot session toward e-learning and working with faculty to develop better assignments that will address life-long information literacy
  • staff supervision – let others supervise library staff and manage daily operations (again, freeing liaisons for specialist work)

A hybrid model of liaison and functional specialist is emerging

Jaguszewski and Williams refer to “superliaisons” who aren’t linked to academic departments but rather work with the entire campus (and the subject liaisons). The functional specialist areas of expertise mentioned include copyright, GIS, media production, and data management.

This trend was most troubling to me as a newer librarian. My library school classes still referred to the seemingly outdated model of liaison duties as reference, instruction, and collection development. These duties are also still core responsibilities of my current position. I will need to be learning these other skill sets on my own and on the job. I wonder how many liaisons are both subject specialists and functional specialists.

Organizational flexibility must meet changing user needs

  • new roles in research services – focus on interdisciplinary research assistance, creating faculty profiles, and other workshops or consultations to assist faculty with research management
  • digital humanities
  • expanding roles in support of teaching and learning – goes back to e-learning opportunities mentioned in user-centered library skills (more scalable than one-shot); as more content becomes digitally accessible, teaching online makes sense
  • support for digital scholarship
  • user experience – new types of librarian positions focused on UX
  • copyright, intellectual property, and scholarly communication

No liaison is an island

I was happy to read about “renovated and repurposed spaces” which was reiterated during the webinar. New roles mean new use of space. We can’t support digital scholarship, media production, collaboration, and other methods of scholarly communication in environments designed for print access and individual study spaces. This is particularly important if libraries are to support interdisciplinary research practices.

Collaboration is key (enough said!)

Create and sustain a flexible workforce

Even with so much talk about emerging technologies and supporting digital scholarship, soft skills are still in demand. Mentioned in the paper is also a trend toward “non-permanent hires.” Given the current conversation in higher education about adjunct faculty, this is somewhat unsettling.

At first glance the findings seem redundant to what we already know and experience in academic libraries. However, I wonder how quickly libraries, particularly smaller ones at institutions still embracing more traditional learning practices, are enacting changes and transforming roles. There seems to be a widening gap between how library staff and academic administration view 21st century research and scholarship practices. Perhaps this is why much of the webinar discussion revolved around bettering library marketing and outreach.

ala 2013 notes from one-shot instruction sessions

Lessons for the Librarian: 10 Tips for Teaching the One-Shot Instruction Session was held on Sunday, June 30th. There were eight speakers: Beth Woodard, Staff Development and Training Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Debra Gilchrist, Vice President for Learning and Student Success, Pierce College; Jennifer Corbin, Head, Center for Library User Education, Tulane University; Megan Oakleaf, Associate Professor, Syracuse University; Michelle Millet, Library Director, John Carroll University; Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of Libraries, University of Nevada – Las Vegas; Randy Hensley, Head of Information Services, Baruch College – CUNY; and Steven Hoover, Senior Assistant Librarian, Syracuse University.

You can view the slides from the presentation and read the article from which the presentation was based. Here are some key tips and references:

~ Some must reads: Understanding By Design by Wiggins and McTighe (2005, 2nd edition) and “Writing Information Literacy Assessment Plans” by Megan Oakleaf in Communications in Information Literacy (2009)

~ You can cover about three concepts well in a one shot. Remember, some students learn like you but most don’t – the Kolb Learning Cycle helps explain this.

~ Consider what activities will help the students learn and, at the same time, give you some assessment data. Assessment happens during teaching, not after! Go with evidence, not your gut: by assessing prior knowledge you demonstrate respect for students and their previous experience.

~ Some ideas to try: the one minute paper (have the students write what they want to learn in class today); “think, pair, share;” brainstorm session (will mean wait time); worksheets; teach using case studies.

~ “Enthusiasm is contagious. Not having enthusiasm is also contagious.” But, be authentic about it. It can be quiet enthusiasm.

~ Don’t be afraid to team teach. Faculty do have good intentions. Ask the faculty about the personality of their classroom. Working with faculty means you should be an asset, be a colleague, and don’t judge. Make the instruction integrated into their course, not a separate “library session.”

~ Document your impact and value and own your role as an educator!

ala 2013 notes from the myth and reality of the evolving patron

The Myth and the Reality of the Evolving Patron: The RUSA President’s Program with Lee Rainie was held on Saturday, June 29th. Rainie is the Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The twitter hashtag is #rusapres13 and video of the presentation is now available from RUSA. You can also view the slides from the program (totally worth it!). Here are some facts that caught my attention:

The tech revolution changed patron experience through evolutions driven by: purpose of engagement and need; life stage; life stressors (time demands, urgency); demographics; and library innovation.

More education means more library use but minorities and poor are more likely to ask librarians for help.

Youth are most likely to use the library space as a hangout space.

Borrowing print books still the dominant use of the public library.

one of the many great cat themed slides from Rainie's presentation!
one of the many great cat themed slides from Rainie’s presentation!

68% of Americans have Broadband at home. Because of this, video viewing has become an important way to view content.

With the democratization of the media sphere, there are actually more arguments happening in our culture. Libraries are now functioning as commons or referees for these arguments.

91% of Americans have cell phones and 56% of these are smartphones. “Smartphones are for snacking,” Rainie said.

Libraries are now dealing with attention zone change – now at “continuous partial attention.” This means more desire for just -in-time searches.

61% of all adults are involved in some form of online social networking. Facebook is still the dominant social media site. However, the composition and character of people’s social networks have changed. They are now channels of learning, trust, and influence. People are using social networks as “The Daily Me” (news) and, in a sense, have created personalized information databases and act as the gatekeepers. Also, now everyone has an audience.

People like self-directed information seeking but they hate the noise and distractions that come with being your own gatekeeper.

“New scarcity is not information, it’s time,” said Rainie.

Rainie noted that because people’s needs change, libraries have the opportunity to be newly relevant to a new group of people.