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.”


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 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.

How to present like Steve Jobs

I’m not an Apple fanboy by any means, but I will say that Steve Jobs does have a knack for drumming up a little excitement. This video shows how you can incorporate some of Jobs’ style into your own presentations.

Granted we don’t have a product as exciting as in iPhone when we teach students how to do library research, but we can offer such things as “free information” that can “make their lives easier” and get them “well on their way to completing their research” with “as little effort as possible.”

The importance of visual literacy

Over the past couple of months I have received numerous calls about the Biz Wiki.  The callers,  emailers, and IMers all have something in common:  they all own a business or work at a business whose name or contact information is incorrect on the Biz Wiki.  I even got a call recently from some lady in Mississippi who kept getting calls at her home  because people thought she was in the recycling business.  All of these people said they got their information from the Biz Wiki.  Actually, the did get their information from a biz wiki, but it was not The Biz Wiki.  I don’t have information about individual companies in the Biz Wiki, as it is a site meant to promote useful business research sources.  The other wiki is a collection of company names, addresses, and other information.   (I’m not going to link to the other wiki here out of spite, as I don’t want to increase it’s page rankings.   Google it if you want to see it. The address has something like bizwiki and .com in it. 😉   )  While the idea of using a wiki as a company directory is a good one, it’s not so good if a lot of the content is just plain wrong.  Wrong information is irritating, as are the frequent phone calls requesting that I fix the inaccuracies.   Folks are even more irritated when I very politely tell them they’ve got the wrong wiki, but a little visual literacy could have saved them a phone call.

If we compare the two sites, they are not very similar at all, save for the words “biz” and “wiki.” I seriously wish I had trademarked the name.

The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The original Biz Wiki
The original Biz Wiki

Folks are likely finding me by searching for Biz Wiki, and then they see a guy named “Chad” with lots of different ways to contact him.  They’re good at Googling, or so they think, and they think they’ve found the root of all the misinformation about their company.  Unfortunately, their sleuthing isn’t good enough, as somehow they can’t figure out that the two sites (see screenshots above) are not similar at all.  A quick look at the two sites ought to alert them that something is different with my contact information page and the other web site.  A simple look at the address bar would tell folks that the sites are in two different locations, but perhaps they don’t know to look in the address bar.    The people are kind of miffed when I p0litely tell them that I’m not the guy responsible for that site and I cannot correct the information there.  Many of them ask who I should contact, but the contact information of the other site is very sparse (a email form with no contact info whatsoever).

These are basic skills that librarians teach in information literacy and library instruction sessions.  We teach our students how to look for authority in a website, how to look at the address (edu, gov, org, com, etc.) , look for the author information, and even to look at the design.  Hopefully the things we’re teaching them are sticking, so they’ll be a bit more saavy consumers of web information.  While the phone calls and email about the other biz wiki are a bit annoying,  they do lend evidence to the fact that librarians are still important in the education process.  My theory is that the folks who called me never had a library instruction class in college, or perhaps they’re the one’s who didn’t listen very well.  I know I’ll be a bit more deliberate in my libray instruction sessions from now on, and hopefully I’ll save some poor chap some phone calls down the road.

It’s a small world after all

Last night I got an IM question from a student while staffing our IM reference service.  She was in the stacks, but “was totally overwhelmed” with how many books we had and was very confused about how to actually find a book.  Since four floors separated us, I decided to send her my video on how to find a book in our library.  It’s a rather cheesy video that I made last summer with my Flip video camera.  As is typical, after sending the student the link to the video, I never heard back.

This morning, I taught a library session for a freshman English class.  About 45 minutes into the class, two girls mentioned how they had watched my video last night and found it really useful.  It turns out that the girls were the same patron that I sent the video to last night.  It was a very cool “small world” experience, and I was able to use the experience as a way to promote our Ask A Librarian service to the other students in the class.

I’m glad that the students found our IM transaction to be helpful, and that got me to thinking.  What if I had given them bad service last night?  What impact might that have had on their experience during this morning’s class?  How would it have impacted future library experiences?  What if they told their classmates that they were treated poorly?  We almost never get to meet or see the patrons that we help via IM, chat, or email.  With IM and chat, there is almost never a real name tied to the patron on the other end, so it can be easy to be less personal with the patron.  If you’re having a bad day, it can also be easier to be rude or short to a person who you cannot see, or whose name you do not know.   The girls this morning were extremely engaged, and worked very hard during the session.  They asked a lot of questions, and I think their overall impression of our library is very positive.  I wonder if we assumed we would meet each virtual patron the next day in person, how might that affect our interractions with our virtual patrons?  Likewise, how might our patrons’ perceptions of the library change?  It’s a small world, after all, and it’s only getting smaller.