Teaching a one-shot library instruction session with TopHat

This spring I used Tophat to shake up the delivery of my large research sessions.  This is one example of how I have used Tophat to enhance my library research instruction.

The scenario
Each spring I am invited to give a one-shot, hour-long orientation to approximately 125 students who are part of the Global Consulting Program course.  The students take the semester-long course prior to their 3-week study-abroad trips where they will do consulting projects for real companies in China, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Spain, and Italy.  The goal of the 60-minute session is to give the students an overview — or in many cases, a refresher — on some of the tools they will use to conduct international business, company, cultural, and country research for their in-state class assignments and out-of-country consulting projects.
For the past few years, I would generally show up to class and just deliver a simple demo of some of the key resources that they would use in their projects.  Given that the class generally meets at 7 PM, I was lucky if less than 25 percent of the students fell asleep.
This spring I was approached by a new GCP program director, who invited me to do the orientation.  Since I had not worked with him before, I figured this was an ideal time to do something new.  We met and I told him what I had in mind, and he was very amenable to trying anything that would get the students more engaged.
 The setup

For this class, I have typically demonstrated resources right off my Best Research Strategies for Global Consulting page on my Business Blog.  I would continue to use this page for my new session, but wanted the class to do the bulk of the work themselves.  I  drafted some basic learning outcomes for the resources, and created nine questions that the students would answer, as teams, to push them to learn.  I put the  questions in TopHat, which I would use to present to the class and allow them to record their answers for all students to see.  Because the students are not enrolled in my TopHat course, I previously contacted TopHat to change my course to allow anonymous answers without the need to sign in (or enroll) to the course.   The professor also communicated with all students that they should bring their personal laptops to class.

The session

For the first five minutes of class, the Internet connection was painfully slow, and I struggled to log in to TopHat and bring up my class guide.  I thought my session, which I had spent about several hours preparing, was dead in the water.  However, the Internet finally behaved, and we were able to carry on as planned.

Screenshot of a typical Tophat discussion question

A sample TopHat question

I had each team work together to come up with a team name, since there were multiple teams going to each country.  I presented each question using the TopHat present mode, and allowed ample time for most groups to respond with their answers.  I selected the best answer with each question, and awarded the winning team for each question a goody bag.  The bag contained a sampling of library laptop stickers, pens, stress balls, and other assorted vendor junk that I had solicited from my colleagues (basically asked them to unload their junk and clean out their desks for me to give it to students).  The students got a kick out of the silliness of the prizes, and I thought the prizes stoked their competitive spirits.  After each question, I spent a short time explaining the answer correctly, and doing a short demo of the resource if necessary.

What I learned

Overall, I think the class went pretty smoothly.  I definitely think the students learned more, and were more engaged, than if I had simply stood in front of them and lectured for 45 minutes.  No one fell asleep.  I did have a few students who did not bring laptops, and if their neighbor also failed to bring a laptop, then those students pretty much checked out for the hour.  I appreciated that I could walk around the lecture hall and answer questions as they worked, allowing me to personally engage with some students in a way that would have been impossible in a traditional lecture format.

The professor provided great feedback and showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the class.  He even said, “From my own experience I know you had 5 minutes of work for every one minute of this class time, and it shows. This was fantastic.”  He was pretty much spot on, as I had about 3-4 hours in prep work for the class.   I think that the time spent was worth it, just in seeing the students do actual work and use the resources right away.   Given that the same class is offered every year and they usually go to the same countries, it was time well spent, as I can recycle the content and reuse the TopHat questions for future sessions.  This class also helped me set the groundwork for another class that I taught this semester, which I will be writing about soon.

My first experience in our new active learning classroom

Today was my first time teaching in our newly remodeled instruction space. It was one of the best teaching experiences I have had in my 14 years of library instruction.


Our MBAs hard at work in Alden 251

The Room

The room is outfitted with three presentation screens at the front of the room.  There are six tables which seat 7, with a 48 inch television monitor at the head of each table.  The room is set up as BYOD (although we do have laptops available for checkout) and students can project via wireless from their laptops to the TV screens using Crestron Airmedia .

The Class Project

This is the first week of the fall semester, and the forty new MBAs have been off to a very fast start.  They will meet with their live client for their marketing project on Monday, so the timing was ideal that today (Friday) we were able to spend three hours together in our new classroom.

I held a similar research session for last year’s MBA class, but feedback from the students revealed it was too late to be of much use for their project (which they had just turned in).  Over the summer I was fortunate to work with our MBA coordinators to get a three hour block of time during their first week when their first project is launched.

The Class Activities

Last year’s session was held in a traditional campus classroom, with tables that held 6-8, with an instructor podium and projector.  I divided the group up into 8 teams, and gave each team 4 research questions.  The questions were geared toward their specific project (which I didn’t know they’d already completed) using specific resources.  Rather than stand at the front of the room and show the students how to use the particular resource, I designed the questions in a way that gave them enough information to allow team exploration of a resource on their own.  Each question listed the name of the database, and offered enough context clues to give the students some hints on what to look for.    After spending 45-60 minutes working through the questions, I then had each team report on how they solved the question, while also demonstrating the resource on the computer and projector for the rest of the class.  Many students liked this approach, though equally as many would have preferred a more traditional “database demonstration” approach.    Unfortunately, since I assigned each group their four questions all at once, many of the teams farmed out the questions to individuals, rather than work on each question as a team.    I’ve since used this “team-based exploration and teach others model” a few more times in other classes (mostly with graduate students) with varying levels of success.

For today’s session, I built upon the same explore/learn/show model but incorporated a few changes.  I was limited to 6 teams of 6-7 students (which was a touch large) since we only have six tables in our new room.  Rather than  give the students a handout of all the questions (and tell each team to answer different questions), I gave all groups the same questions.  Also, instead of using a handout, I put each question in a Tophat course that I developed for the class.  Each question was presented to the students individually, ensuring that the entire team was limited to working on the same question.  Each question was presented as a discussion question in Tophat, and I asked that each team answer with  [Team Name:  Answer]  format.  This allowed me to track team answers and time spent on the questions, while also identifying stellar responses to showcase to the rest of the class.  (Here are the questions if you would like to use them for your own business instruction class, or adapt them for another subject.)

The Crestron control station at the front of the room enables the instructor to grab and show a screen of one of the six table monitors.  I would use Tophat to identify an interesting answer (or a team that had yet to share) and then use the Crestron to present that team’s screen on the three large monitors at the front of the room.  I would then ask that team to explain to the other students how to navigate the database and how they found their answers.  By doing this, I was never at the front of the room doing a demonstration, but rather was coaching a student through the resource, asking questions, and prompting them to an answer.  One key takeaway about letting the students drive is that I always learn how to use our resources in a different way.

In Conclusion

I spent about 4 hours preparing for this class, which included writing the questions in Tophat, learning how to use it,  and running through the resources to make sure the questions made sense.  I also practiced for 30 minutes with the technology in the room.   With the exception of one Crestron monitor failing to connect, all of the technology worked flawlessly.     The students seemed to like the room, and appreciated getting out of their traditional classroom space.  No one fell asleep, and it appeared that most teams had participation from everyone at the table.

My last three Tophat questions were meant to poll how the students felt about the research session, what they had learned, and how they might improve the session.  I only had one student who said they would have preferred a more traditional demonstration, and many students said the session could have been improved with donuts and food (I did give them a 10-minute break to go to the coffee shop in Alden).    Many felt tired after the three hours, and as their instructor, I definitely was exhausted. Most seemed to feel inspired and confident that they had a good enough grasp of the resources to do well on their marketing project, and I was pleased to see groups of students working together, teaching each other, and doing relevant research for their project.

My favorite piece of feedback was a great finale to the class, this week, and this post.  The student posted:

“Chad knows his stuff. What a guy. I might love him.”


Some quick thoughts on the 2015 Collective Conference

picture of Chad in front of Knoxville Sunsphere

Obligatory Sunsphere selfie, proof I was there.

Most library conferences I have been two lately are mega events, often requiring trips to strange (and hot) lands like Las Vegas. Some colleagues found a new conference, that was cheap, small, and offered an alternative to those traditional sage-on-the-stage venues.   The conference was called The Collective, and happened to be located in a town where I had lived for 7 years.  These are some ideas and observations from The Collective 2015 Conference in familiar (and cold) Knoxville, Tennessee.

Returning to a city that you lived in for 7 years, having been in your profession for 13 years since you left, can make you feel really old. I visited my old apartment building; it looked the same. However, so many things have changed, like why did they get rid of O’Charley’s on the Strip?

One would hope that by driving 400 miles south, one would be greeted with warmer temperatures.  It was -10 in Knoxville, and -18 in Athens.  So I guess that’s a little warmer?!?

There are always those one or two people who have to ask the last question, or have an opinion or insight in every single conference session. This can be exacerbated by smaller conference settings.

I’d like to make a Collective-like mini-conference-like thing for library staff in our building to sign up and present. My initial idea is that folks could do a 10-minute-max show-and-tell (wow-that’s-a-lot-of-hyphens) of productivity apps, email hacks, or just about how they work.  I envision that folks could submit proposals via a Google form, then the organizer(s) of the mini-conference could organize the session in a logical order.   I also envision lots of coffee and homemade baked goods.

I like to play with others, and enjoy doing so. However, attending two 1.5 hour sessions back-to-back where “we will break into small groups and talk” is a bit much. I left the second session to attend a more “sit-back-and-listen” presentation. I’m all for group activities, but they can be draining as well. I appreciated that the Collective gave a mix of both listen/question and active/workshop/engage/discuss program formats. Kudos for choice.

I’m still a sucker for PowerPoint versus the “let me live demo this for you” presentation. I’m a big fan of a loose script, not so much of the freestyle.

For an upcoming presentation on how to make videos, I want to do some video success stories of some of my colleagues. The plenary speaker had a couple of video testimonials, which added a great deal to her PowerPoint presentation. I think my colleagues offer some great insight, and this could showcase more than one expert on the topic.

Sched.org rocks. That is all. I loved how easy it is to choose what I want to attend. I even got an email each morning telling me what my conference schedule was for the day. Very cool.

Best catch phrases (likely paraphrased):

  • On leadership: “Sometimes when you are good at something, you keep doing the same thing. ” You don’t grow and it limits you.
  • On solving a problem: “We talked a lot. We’re academics, so we formed a committee.”
  • On library streaming video:”Discoverability preceeds usability.”
  • On the hours and scheduling of the library at NCSU:  “It’s complicated.”

Favorite session:  “Staffing the Commons”  .  Good, practical advice, and the discussion after the presentation was great as well. Writeup to follow once I can wrap my head around things.

Session I had higher hopes for:  “Project Management Tools and Tips“.    I read “tools” to mean productivity and teamwork applications, such as Evernote and Trello, but it was rather Word templates for asking the right questions about a project.  Another colleague had a similar interpretation, so perhaps a different description would have led me to another session.

Attendee dinner reception: It’s very hard to beat beverages, BBQ, blues, new and old librarian friends. ‘Nuff said.

Water bottles and messenger bags make for great conference swag.

Being able to stay in the same hotel as the conference is pretty awesome.

We drove 800 miles round trip for the conference, and planned to make our stay a little longer and more leisurely.  However, snow going down forced me to drive 35 mph all the way to Cincinnati, and the threat of more snow pushed us to leave the conference early on Friday, missing the final two sessions.  Regardless of the drive, I thought it was a good conference and would love to attend (and perhaps even present) again.

I applaud the folks at University of Tennessee libraries for putting on a great conference.  This conference serves as a model of what small conferences should be.

Are you real?

picture of library chat

My library  offers an awesome chat service, open 24 hours, 5 days a week (plus weekend hours), where patrons can get their questions answered by caring and knowledgeable library reference staff.

Sometimes it seems too good to be real.   And sometimes librarians have funny answers.  😉

picture of library chat


My new and improved setup for making instructional videos

Last summer I started using some new hardware that has made my video making a lot easier.  The new setup helps me make better quality videos while reducing steps and saving a substantial amount of time.

I made some videos today with my new camera and mic.  #blueyeti #screencastomatic #bizref

Some time ago I shared how I make my instructional videos.  In that post I detailed how I recorded my video introductions with a dedicated camcorder (or using the video mode on a standard camera) and then captured the screencast using Screencast-o-matic.   I was recording the camcorder audio with a lavalier mic, but recording the desktop audio with a gaming microphone headset.  While the audio was good, the levels from the two different sources never quite matched, despite my best attempts to equalize them in my video editor.  My old process also required me to plug the camcorder into my desktop computer, then download the video from the camera.  While this did not take a huge amount of time, it was an extra step.

The picture above shows my new and improved setup.  On the left is a Logitech HD Webcam that records up to 1080P video.  On the right is a Blue Yeti Microphone that records excellent audio. Both are connected to my computer via USB.    I’ve stopped using the video camcorder altogether and now just record my introductory video with the webcam, Blue Yeti, and Screencast-o-matic.  I then record the desktop demonstration with Screencast-o-matic and the Blue Yeti mic.  Because I am using the Blue Yeti for the audio source for both the introduction and the screencast, there isn’t any need to adjust the audio levels.  Both sound awesome since they are from the same source!

Since the Webcam is already attached to my computer, I don’t have to combine multiple video files.  I will usually record in the introduction (and outro) at the end of my screencast, using the same video file.  I then export the file to my desktop and then do my editing in the old faithful Windows Live Moviemaker.  Unfortunately, the editing in SOM is still a little slow and clunky on my machine.

In general, the quality of the video is superior to my old method and my new method definitely saves me a lot of time.  However, there are times when the video can lag behind the audio in the  on-camera personal introduction segments.  This is usually caused by having too many applications open on my computer while recording video, so closing unneeded programs helps.

The other drawback of this setup is that since my camera and mic are tied to my desktop, I am by default tied to my desktop.  Should I want to take my show on the road and do a video introduction outside my office I’ll need to use a different camera.  Other than that it’s a great setup.