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.

Get your knowledge out of your inbox and on the web

In only a week, my answer is now #6 on Google

In only a week, my answer is now #6 on Google

In his book, Trust Agents, Chris Brogan describes how people can become experts by sharing their answers on the web with more people.  I believe librarians should be doing this as often as they can in order to showcase their expertise, and it’s something I try to do whenever practical.

Brogan describes the process as follows (pp. 25-26):

  1. Receive a question requiring your expertise via email.
  2. Respond with an email but put answer in a blog post as well.
  3. The answer is out of your email and on the web for others to learn.
  4. Repeat this process many times.
  5. Your answers are now in Google.
  6. Now you’re an expert on the web.

A week ago I received an email from a student looking for market share and brand share information of the energy and sports drink market.  I recognized that this would likely be a question others were interested in, so rather than simply replying via email, I put the answer on my Business Blog and sent him the link.  He replied back a few hours later with his appreciation (which rarely happens, btw).

In a week’s time, my answer to the one patron has been viewed 103 times and currently sits as the #6 Google search result for “energy drink market share” and #7 result for “sports drink market share.” While all of the resources listed in my answer are from subscription databases (it’s impossible to get a good data on this topic without them) I do suggest that non-OHIO patrons check with their local libraries.  Hopefully my post will send other libraries some business while also demonstrating librarian expertise and the value of libraries.

How I make instructional library web videos and screencasts and how you can too

Web Video is a great way to reach patrons

Making videos for my library patrons have saved me time, allowed me to better serve my them, and enabled them to quickly find answers to their questions.   I first started using web video for library instruction over 6 years ago and have learned a lot along the way.  My hope is that the information in this post can help others make web videos and screencasts to reach and teach their patrons as well.

Update:  For a video demonstration of how I make videos, please see this post.

Why Web Video?

My job as a librarian means that I help students and faculty find the information that they need.  This help is often provided via classroom research sessions, individual in-person consultations, email, chat, phone, and even text.  As a single librarian who serves a college of over 2,000 students and 80 faculty, I am constantly looking for ways to provide better outreach and support to my patrons, while also looking to increase efficiency on  my end.  To this end I strive to reach the most people with methods that can be scaled for the size of the population that I serve.  I have found that web video is one of the easiest and best ways to reach as many people as possible with the least amount of my time and effort.

What type of content?

A sample of my video content

The content for the videos that I make generally comes from the questions that I receive.  It’s pretty easy to know what kind for videos you need to make based upon the frequency of questions that you get (or may get).  In many cases, I make videos for general topics, such as how to find economic information in Passport GMID.  In cases like this, my goal is to make a general video that will show users how to navigate a database with a rather complicated interface.  The question that this video answers is a question that I am likely to get quite a bit.  When I do get the question, I can easily send the user the URL to the video via email or chat.  This saves me time from having to type the email explanation of how to do this, and the user gets a visual explanation of how to find the information.

At other times, I make more specific videos that address specific research topics.  Currently I have over 200 business students who are doing a feasibility study of placing a popcorn franchise in the local Athens mall.  I met with all 200+ students (5 classes of 40 students) last week to teach them about how to research this topic.  I also created a specific Business Blog post to address the tools needed to research the popcorn and snack foods industry.  Before the class I made three videos, one for finding industry ratios for popcorn stores, one for finding demographics of popcorn consumers, and one for finding popcorn consumption by location.  All three videos were demonstrations of what I did in class, and were created so that the students could refer back to them after the class.  I even showed the video about popcorn consumption during class, as SimplyMap, the database demonstrated, can often take longer than 5 minutes (the length of the video) to explain during a live demonstration.

Regardless of the context of the video, I try to make all of my videos answer a particular question.  That is, I would rather make a video on “How to Find Stock Reports in S&P Net Advantage” than just “An Overview of NetAdvantage”.  This helps in a couple of areas.  First, I believe that a video that addresses a specific question will help me keep the video focused and shorter.  Second, someone searching for “stock reports” on the web via Google or on YouTube is more likely to find the first title, rather than the second.

 How much time does it take?

The first video I ever made (before YouTube was a household name) took me over 6 hours to make.  At that time (around 2005 or so) you would have to worry about things like video formats, compression rates, streaming, and more.  There was very much a trial and error approach and a very large learning curve when putting video on the web. Since then, web video formats and players have become more standardized and web video hosts have made uploading and publishing video a lot simpler.  Technology has advanced to the point that people can now focus primarily on the content of their videos, rather than worry about video codecs and compression rates.

When making web videos for library instruction, the time spent is directly related to the amount of practice you have had.  If you are just starting out, your first video may take you a while.  You may stumble with the screencasting/screencapturing tools.  You may fumble with the recording of your content.  You may try for perfection, but not achieve it.  I’ve had a lot of practice and have established a pretty good system over time (I will try to write up time-saving tips in a separate post soon), so I am usually able to create and publish videos very quickly.  With the three examples mentioned above, I was able to record, edit, publish to YouTube, and post all three videos to the Business Blog in just under an hour.  My record is  seven videos in about 90 minutes.  I’m still not as efficient as I would like to be, but I have gotten a lot better over time.

 How much time is saved?

One may think that not much time is saved if you have take extra time to learn how to do something new.  That may be true early on, but I can guarantee that as you get better making videos, your return on time invested will increase exponentially.  At the time of writing this post, those three videos that took me an hour to create from start to finish have been viewed a combined 172 times in the past 10 days.  I can tell you for sure that having those videos available has saved me and my students a huge amount of time.  They get the answer they need quickly and in the context of their specific research, and I can avoid answering the same question over and over again.  That frees up my time so I can answer the more unique (and harder) questions.

How long should my videos be?

I try to keep my videos to less than 5 minutes. Limiting the length to 2-3 minutes is even better, but some concepts or databases can’t be explained in that amount of time.  If the video is likely to go over 5 minutes, I try to find ways to divide the video up into several smaller videos.  As an example, a single video covering every single feature of Passport GMID (a huge and powerful market research database) would likely take 10-15 minutes minimum.  I’ve chosen to divide all the various features of Passport GMID into multiple videos.   The important thing  to remember is most people are not watching my videos for entertainment.  While I try to keep the videos as interesting as possible, the fact of the matter is that few people are going to find “demographics of popcorn consumers” a lot of fun.  Therefore, I try to get them through the content to find their answer in the most efficient manner possible.

Script or no script?

Depends.  If you are just starting out, I’d suggest going with a script or at least a brief outline.  Most of my outlines have been written on a Post-It note, so you don’t necessarily have to have an elaborate script with storyboard.  For most of my videos, I will usually run through the search demonstration before recording, then repeat the same basic process for the recording.  This practice run helps me to avoid stumbling and having to repeat the recording numerous times.  A script is also useful in keeping your thoughts on track and keeping you within your time limits.

Which software for screencasting?

While there are a ton of options for recording your computer screen (screencasting), my favorite is Screencast-O-Mattic.  I like it because it is web based, and it has free and paid versions.  I’ve been using the free version for quite some time, and I have found that the only drawback is the company watermark in the bottom left of my videos.  I recently upgraded to a Pro Account for 12 bucks a year, which removes the watermark and gives me some more advanced editing features.  If you are just starting out, stick with the free version for now.

How do I record my voice?

For most of my recordings, I use the microphone from a Logitech Webcam.  It’s easy to use and the sound is decent.  You can also use the microphone line-in port and a lavalier mic or even a Skype/webchat headset.  The hardest part for me (and others in our cubicle farm) is finding a quiet time or place to record the screencast.  I’ve found that I can get a lot of recording done before 9 a.m in my office, but you may find that late evening or lunchtime may work better.

Where do you record your videos?

I almost always record my videos in my office in the library, though I have been able to record a few at home.  Making videos is a good work-from-home task, especially while a sick child is taking a nap.  In a recent video, I actually recorded part of a sports business  video in front of our football stadium (in the cold).  I’ve got a list of other locations around town that I may use for the introductions in future videos, just to spice things up a bit.

Which resolution?

Screencast-O-Mattic allow you to change the size of your video to meet your needs. With the availability of modern widescreen monitors, I prefer to record with Screencast-O-Mattic’s HD setting of 1280×720.  This gives me the largest size file to work with, should I need to resize in my video editor.  In general, I upload all my videos in HD 1280×720.

Customize resolution size in SCOM

Why and How do you add the video of yourself in the videos?

In all of my videos, I bookend the screencast with a personal video introduction and conclusion.  I do the video introductions to make sure students and faculty place my voice and name with my face, and to personally introduce myself as the expert.  Without the video introductions, I feel like I am just a voice on the screen.  The video introductions add a little personality to the videos and highlight me as a resource in addition to the databases that I am demonstrating.  Plus, as shown in the image below, the video introductions allow me to show off my collection of sweater vests.

A typical video introduction

I use a small inexpensive video camera to record the video clips.  I then piece the clips together with the video from Screencast-O-Mattic in Windows Live Movie Maker.  The process is a little outside the scope of this particular post, but I will write that up soon in another blog post and link to it from here.

To edit or not?

If you are just starting out, my advice is to try to avoid editing.  With editing you add another level of complexity that you may not need or want to mess with.  If you totally flub something in your recording, it should be fairly easy to re-do the recording, especially if you are sticking to the 2-5 minute time limit.

How do I know when my video is done?

The easy answer to this is “when you have covered your topic as clearly and as efficiently (short) as possible.”  However, the definition of “done” can depend on  individual expectations.  I almost always record my videos in one take, listen to them once, then publish them to the web, warts and all.  If I notice in my listen-through that I provide incorrect information or if I am not very clear, then I may re-record the video.  A couple of “umms” and pauses won’t really harm the quality of your video, so don’t be too concerned with perfection.  I’m not trying to be Lucas or Spielberg—I’m simply trying to make content that helps students and faculty.  If I was super critical of my videos and demanded perfection, my videos would take a lot longer to produce and I might not meet my patrons’ needs in a timely manner.  In other words, I don’t think they will care if I mispronounce a word or two as long as they get their question answered.  If you think your video is bad,  you can search YouTube to find worse ones and feel a lot better about your skills.

Where should I upload?

YouTube.  But don’t stop there.  You can’t automatically assume that because you upload it to YouTube that your intended audience is going to find it.  You will need to cross post and promote your video all over the place.  Embed your videos on your libguides/research guides, your blogs, and wherever you think your audience will find it.  If you can’t embed the actual video, try to look for creative ways and place to link to the video. We even have an image link in our EBSCO database interface that links to our videos about searching EBSCO.

Our YouTube videos linked in EBSCO

But you don’t use just use YouTube, do you?

That is correct. I actually use a service called Blip.TV as well.  I started using them when YouTube was in it’s infancy because Blip had better video quality than YouTube.  This may also be covered in another blog post, but for now let’s just say I use both Blip and YouTube.  If you are just starting out, just stick to YouTube to keep things simple.

How do I promote my videos?

I have my YouTube account set to automatically Tweet my upload, which occasionally gets picked up by our official @aldenlibrary account, which can then get picked up by students, the official @ohiou account, and others.  I’ve often had pretty good success emailing a video to faculty members.  I usually tell them that I’ve been helping a lot of students with the same questions, and my video should help others with similar questions.  They are usually pretty good about forwarding the email to their students if they know it will help them find better information for their projects.  I also usually show at least one video in every class I teach, and show them the link on my blog where they can find all of my videos.  I also use a WordPress plugin to show related posts and promote the videos that way (yet another concept that should be its own post when I get around to it).

Twitter mentions in action

 What else should I know?

Hopefully by now you  have the basic knowledge needed to create your own videos.  In future posts I will address related topics such as cameras, editing, WordPress plugins, and additional resources/readings.  Stay tuned for more on the topic, but for now have fun making videos.  Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to submit one on this post.  Finally if you would like another business librarian’s take on making videos, check out Steve Cramer’s recent post on the topic.

 

 

 

 

An exercise in evaluating web page bias

The screenshot below was taken from this article about Floyd Landis on 5/20/10.  In the article, Landis admits to illegal use of steroids and blood doping, after denying it for the past 4 years.  In the article, Landis also states that Lance Armstrong and other teammates were guilty of cheating as well.  Do you find anything odd about the picture below?

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Hint:  Look high and right.

If that wasn’t obvious, look at another screenshot of the same article, taken about 10 minutes later:

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And if you need another example, check out this one:

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Does the content of the page raise any eyebrows about the substance and validity of the article?

YouTube and Fox News for an evaluation exercise

I’ve been doing an evaluation exercise with many of my English 151 classes for the last couple of years.  It works pretty well, and I’ve had several instructors request that I repeat it again for their future classes.  Many of my colleagues have been asked about this exercise, so I thought I would put it down it writing.

First, a little background on our English 151 library sessions.  We generally get to see each section of English 151 for a 2-3 hour period, usually during the middle of the 10-week quarter.  We teach them how to use the online catalog, how to search for articles, a little about navigating our website, and usually a little about evaluation.  The English classes are our best bet in getting most of the first-year students familiar with the library.  Many students won’t ever have another library instruction session in their college career, but rather than try to teach them everything they could possibly know about the library, we try to address more general themes.  One of those themes is evaluating sources, and we all tend to teach this a little differently.  Here is one of the more successful exercises that I use to teach evaluation.  If you have any questions or if anything isn’t clear, please post a comment and I’ll try to answer as best as I can.

The Exercise

1.  I play the following YouTube video for the class. It takes about seven minutes.

2.  While the video is playing, I take notes on a whiteboard at the front of the class.  Basically I am writing down things the people say in the video that really stick out at me, things that I might want to question.  If you listen to the video, you’ll get the idea of the type of things that might raise a flag.

Notes on the whiteboard

3.  After the video is over, I ask the class what they thought of the video, and this usually generates some conversation.  If no one talks, I’ve got the notes on the whiteboard at the front of the class.  I’ll mention things like the “Luke Skywalker meets…..” comment, or ask them about what things the panel may have said that may cause them to be less credible.   I also ask them about the supposed “expert” on the panel, and ask what makes her credible.

4.  With the expert, I like to point out that she had not played the game that she was criticizing at all.  I also mention that the anchorwoman did not allow the real expert, the game journalist, to speak much at all.  We then talk about all the other panelists, and discuss what gives them the authority to talk about the game.  As an example, the anchorwoman “went on the internet” to do research, one panelist questioned “what happened to the days of Atari and PacMan” and that she felt “old”, and another panelist compared games to Playboy Magazine.

5.  In examining the clip, I like to specifically focus on one of the expert’s points about game statistics.  She alleges that teenagers are the majority of game players.  However, if you check the Entertainment Software Association’s website, you’ll see that the average gamer is actually 35 years old.  The expert also mentions a “new study out of the University of Maryland,” but I try to point out that there are numerous studies about video games, and nearly all of them contradict each other.  If you want to find a study that says video games make you kill people, then you can find that pretty easily.  If you want to find a study that says video games will make you smarter and a better team player, entire books have been written on those topics as well.  The point is to look critically at these studies and find other information that strengthens and weakens the argument.

6.  I then point to this blog post on Joystiq about the Fox News/Mass Effect controversy.  I explain to them what happened in a nutshell.  First, Fox News aired the video shown above, then someone (most likely an angry gamer) copied the video and uploaded it to YouTube.  (FYI, more than one video was posted). Next, multiple gaming blogs embedded the video(s) on their pages, whereby millions of gamers saw the video and became enraged.  Not content to just sit on their hands, many of these gamers went to Amazon.com and rated the expert’s book (which happened to be promoted during the video segment on Fox).  Amazon actually removed over 400 negative reviews of the book, but most of them said something like  <paraphrase>”after never actually reading the book, I can tell you that this book is an utter piece of garbage and the author has no idea what she is talking about.”  I can say this because, since I haven’t read the book, I am still an authority on the subject.”</paraphrase>   The expert later apologized publicly via the New York Times, but I don’t think Fox News ever ran a retraction of the story.

7.  The entire exercise, including watching the video and discussion, generally takes no longer than 15 minutes.  More than 15 minutes, and I find myself belaboring the point too much and their minds start to drift.  If you use this, try to keep it fresh and lively, engage the students for a few minutes, then move on to the next thing on your agenda.  I usually do the exercise after they we have had time for hands-on work and they have found a few articles or books.  It’s a good way to bring the class focus back together after the hands-on individual activities.

So what’s the point?

The point of the exercise is to demonstrate to the students that evaluation of information goes beyond  telling the difference between popular and  scholarly articles.  This exercise shows them that they should look at things critically, regardless of whether they are doing academic research, watching the news, buying a new camera, or trying to decide which movie to go see.  Even in real life outside of academia, we are required to make choices about the information that we ingest and digest.  Even when information is fed to us via Fox News, CNN, the New York Times, our professors, or our mothers,  it’s important to understand and look for bias and misinformation.  I get better with the exercise the more I do it, and by the conversation it starts with the students, I believe it really is effective at making my point.

I hope that this is useful to someone and that if people use it, they’ll make it better.  If you try it and it works, please let me know.  I’d love to hear what worked, what didn’t, and what changes you made to make the exercise better.

I’m also curious what other librarians and teachers are doing, as I’m always looking for new ways to be more effective in the classroom.  Have you seen something that really worked, or have you tried something that really made the point of evaluation clear to the students?   If so, I’d love to hear about it.