“Don’t just present it…Ceph it!”

To piggy back on my previous post, after analyzing the data from our LEAP value rubric assessment project we have decided to not only change the way we do our instruction but to also incorporate new methods of learning for the students. A few weeks back  I had a class lined up for a mini session on database searching with a follow up on citation. So I decided  to try  the Cephalonian Method I read about on the ALA Thinktank Facebook group. A colleague of mine who also teaches at University of Rhode Island LIS program told me they use this style of instruction with some really good results. This method was developed by Cardiff Univeristy (who coined the phrase “Don’t just present it…Ceph it!) and works great with not only specific sessions (database searching, web site evaluation) but working with our CSS students, aka College Success seminar. (The College Success seminar is a one credit course geared towards incoming freshman to teach them basic study skills.)  I find this is a fantastic way to introduce new students to what the library has to offer and what our roles are as librarians — No, really, we don’t just shush you!

I decided not to use the “color coded” system  Cardiff uses as this class was just looking at databases. I created eight questions and numbered them so as the class moves forward I can keep the questions in a progressive order.

They are:

What is the difference between a database and searching Google?

There are way too many databases out there and they all look the same to me. How do I know which one to use?

Can I access this from home?

What is the difference between scholarly and  popular?

What is peer reviewed?

What is an abstract?

What is a citation?

How can I work with a librarian? (This one is to promote our Book-A- Librarian initiative — I’ll write more about this later.)

Feel free to use these questions if you feel inspired . . . No copyright here!

I  found a cool template from PowerPoint and then laminated them for reuse. The feedback was very positive. It helped to break up the monotony of me blabbing for 20 minutes (remember this was a mini session) and it ensured I wouldn’t forget to mention key information. I plan on using this again during our new student orientation next week to highlight our services.

Failing Better

Earlier this week, I did a one-shot library instruction session for a developmental writing class. On the face of it, it was set up for success: the instruction was tied to a specific assignment and was focused on helping the students meet one of the requirements for their writing assignment, which was to cite at least one academic encyclopedia in their essays about literacy. It was in a computer lab, where students could immediately practice what I was showing them. I had an activity for them to complete that would ensure (theoretically) that they left with the one encyclopedia article they needed – an activity that has worked for me in the past. In spite of this, it felt like it was one of the least successful instruction sessions I’ve ever conducted, which left me mulling over what went wrong and what I could do different next time.

One major point of confusion for students was the different platforms we have for searching and accessing e-encyclopedia articles. And, even though I covered keyword searching techniques, students were still typing unproductive search phrases into the search boxes. Irrelevant or null results ensued. (This, of course, points to one of the reasons one-shots don’t work so well – you need more than 15 minutes to teach students how to search effectively).

Near the end of the session, one student asked me, “Can’t I just search Google? I’m not finding anything and I’m really frustrated.” She wasn’t the only one with this kind of response. Luckily, it was a small class, and my colleague (who was along for training) and I had time to go around and help students individually. But, that doesn’t change the fact that they will now associate library research with difficulty and frustration and will want to avoid it.

Another thing I noticed was that students were running into problems not just with finding stuff but also with determining that what they’d found was relevant to their topic. I had a student who found a perfect article for her topic but who discarded it because it mentioned – in passing – a statistic about exiled Afghan women and literacy, and the students’ assigned topic was specifically on literacy in the United States (which was what the article was really about). In the future, I may need to spend less time on how to search and more time on evaluating what they find (again, difficult in a short one-shot).

Even though I thought I was keeping it pretty simple and manageable, I think it ended up being too complex and overwhelming. Next time, I think I’d try to pick just one e-encyclopedia platform for them to search and spend more time on the evaluation of what they find. I think I’d also try to have a more structured activity that would better scaffold the search and selection experience from start to finish, whereas my current activity ignores the evaluation/selection piece of the process. Maybe some of these revisions will help. Maybe they won’t, but at least I’ll fail better the next time.

Active Learning Exercises to Use in Your Next One Shot

I have a love-hate relationship with the one-shot session. This is a shame, because my college does not offer dedicated information literacy or research skills courses. While some instructors have invited me into class for two sessions, it’s rare. Almost every class I teach is a one-shot session.

And I teach a lot of them! In the three and a half years at my college, I’m proud of having significantly expanded our instruction program (another topic for another post!). Since August 2012, I personally have taught 197 one-shot sessions, so it’s not surprising that I reflect on the one-shot session a fair amount. And while I believe its limitations far outweigh its advantages, I do have some love for the one-shot.

I love to teach, and I love working with a wide variety of courses and assignments. Some one-shots go so well that they’re a huge ego boost. I swoop into a class, bestow the gift of a clear path forward on the heretofore dreaded research assignment, and swoop back out again an hour later, like a librarian Mary Poppins. Students are demonstrably appreciative, sometimes applauding without having been prompted their instructor. I’ve even received a couple of thank-you cards from the class a few days later:

But despite the warm fuzzies I get from an engaged, animated class, I’ve had one-shots go terribly wrong. Memorable sessions were punctuated by a student vomiting on the floor, or most recently, having a seizure. Classes have been unexpectedly cut short by fire alarms or inexplicable odors that cause us to have to evacuate the building.

The worst one-shots are the ones that seem to go on forever, where the energy is sucked out of the room. It’s the period of the day when everyone’s drowsy and hungry for lunch, or drowsy and full of lunch. Eyes glaze over. Students are unresponsive, and the instructor is playing on her phone in the back row. Your lecture seems flat and stilted; no one answers your questions, no one participates.

Whether or not your one-shot is a fairy tale or a horror story, another limitation of the one-shot is that there simply isn’t enough time to teach everything you’d like and you think students need to complete the assignment. We all know the instructor who schedules a one-shot by asking us to “just tell them how to do research” in one class period (if we’re lucky enough to get the entire period, that is).

Beyond content, though, I feel the one-shot format prevents me from incorporating active learning as much as I’d like. In my ideal one-shot session, I provide a little bit of background information, and then split students up to work on paired or small group activities, to report back to the group on their task.

But if it seems like there’s just too much information to convey, and not enough time to do it in, then I fall into the trap of believing it’s easier to spend most of the time lecturing, rather than facilitating activities and hands-on learning. While it may be easier for me, in the end, everyone loses: students aren’t engaged, they tune out, and the one-shot goes downhill.

With that in mind, here are four of my favorite active learning exercises to use in one-shots: they don’t take much time, they break up the lecture, and they get students talking. Give them a try the next time you want to break out of a one-shot rut.

Stand Up / Sit Down for Boolean Logic

I modified this activity from an excellent book, “Active Learning Techniques for Librarians: Practical Examples,” by Andrew Walsh and Padma Inala. It’s a fun, visual way to teach Boolean logic, and has the added benefit of getting students’ blood flowing when they’re forced to stand up and move.

Tell the class they should stand up if they fit the conditions you write on the board. I start with STUDENT. It will take a second for the class to realize everyone has to stand up. Then I say, “Let’s pretend you’re my search results. I’m overwhelmed with so many results. I need to narrow down these results to be more specific.”

I turn back to the board and add, AND JEANS (or AND SHORTS, if it’s summer). Some students sit down, some students stay standing. I ask the class to notice what happened to our search results, and they usually get that results were narrowed / reduced.

Next I’ll ask what they think will happen if I add another condition connected with AND – will we get more results, or fewer results? Sometimes two different students will give two different answers, which prompts further discussion. Then I’ll add AND GLASSES (or AND HAT, if I see more students in hats than glasses). We’ll usually only have a few students left standing at that point, providing a clear visual example that the more search terms you have connected with AND, the fewer results you’ll get.

I ask the JEANS AND GLASSES folks to stay standing for a moment, and then I erase AND and change it to OR. I’ll tell the class, “Now stand up if you fit either one of these conditions – if you’re wearing jeans or glasses.” Walk around the room and make sure everyone that should be is standing up. Ask the class what happened to the search results when you changed AND to OR, and discuss what each operator will do.

Confession: I do not do this activity to demonstrate NOT. I really want students to see the difference in results between terms connected with AND, versus terms connected with OR. I use a trusty Venn Diagram to teach NOT.

This is a popular exercise with both students and instructors. In fact, I just received this email from a faculty member in the most recent class I did this activity with: “I had never understood about using the words ‘and, not, or’.  I really loved how you used the students to demonstrate the differences.”

Think / Pair / Share for Evaluating Information

This is one that you can do relatively quickly, depending on whether or not you go around the whole room for each pair to report back. I display the following question and ask students to think about it for a moment: “how do you know when you can trust information?” I also display some follow-up questions to help get them thinking about the topic: What characteristics does the source have? Where do you find the source? How is the source different from other sources of information?

After a moment, I ask students to turn to the person next to them and discuss the question for a minute or two. Once they’ve talked for a bit, go around the room and ask each pair to tell the class just one thing they discussed together.

Most of the answers deal with the author and her credentials, documentation / footnoting, copyright date, website domain, etc. This becomes the perfect segue into introducing the CRAAP Test for evaluating sources according to currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose.

This exercise is not only a great way to get students’ talking about information, but also a handy way to assess their knowledge of evaluating sources.

Spot the Differences for Database Citations

This is a quick activity I do if I have the opportunity to talk about citation for any length of time (i.e., beyond showing how EBSCO databases will cite your sources for you). Display both a citation you took from a database, and its corrected citation. For an MLA citation, I usually have to clean up the line spacing, hanging indent, font type and size, and capitalization . Here’s the example I use for APA citations:

I like breaking the class into small groups, and the first group to correctly spot all three differences between the two citations wins a small prize.

Keyword Brainstorming

One of the biggest problems my students have is generating effective keywords for their topic, so I like to spend time in class working on this. I start with a very broad topic I’ve taken from actual assignments, such as “technology is destroying society,” or “TV is bad for kids.” I tell students we need to break the topic down by asking questions about it: What kinds of TV might be bad? Why is it bad? How specifically could it affect children? What age group of children might be most affected?

Students talk in pairs or small groups, and I’ll check in on groups to make sure they’re on the right track. Then I call the class back together and solicit their keywords, writing them on the board. If there’s not a lot of participation, you can ask for a keyword from each small group. This part is fun, especially with the TV example – students love talking about bad TV! I usually keep going until we have around 20 keywords on the board.

At the end, I tell students that they just took a small sentence and exploded it, and they should do this for any topic they’re researching. Not only does this help generate a large bank of specific keywords with which they can search for sources, it can also help them narrow down a topic: now instead of trying to write a paper about all technologies affecting all parts of society, they can just look at their brainstormed list and circle a few specific concepts to narrow down to topics like video game violence and children, or reality television and risky adolescent behaviors.

I can’t guarantee you’ll get a thank-you card after class if you use these active learning techniques, but with luck, you and your students might find yourselves on the “love” side of the one-shot.