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.
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.
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.
Today I did a count of my videos, and discovered that I created 27 business research videos and 21 library-related videos (like the ones I post on this blog) in 2009. My business research videos were viewed over 2600 times, and the more general library videos have been viewed over 4200 times. Most of my videos took less than an hour to produce, from start to finish, so the return on investment is quite huge. It’s good to know that something that takes so little effort to put together is getting used so frequently. For me, web video offers a great way to reach my users.
I’m in the process of putting together a series of blog posts on how I use and create web video, including services, tools, and more. Hopefully librarians and others will find the information useful. Look for the posts coming soon. In the meantime, if you have any questions about web video, please leave a comment.
Because it’s growing by leaps and bounds, that’s why!
“The number of unique viewers of online video<a href=”http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/total-viewers-of-online-video-increased-5-year-over-year/”> increased 5.2% year-over-year according to The Nielsen Company</a>, from 137.4 million unique viewers in January 2009 to 142.7 million in January 2010.”? I’d like to think that a few of my videos that I created in the last year have contributed to a growth in that number.
Yesterday I did a count of my videos,and discovered that I? created 27 business research videos and 21 library-related videos in 2009. My business research videos were viewed over 2600 times, and the more general library videos have been viewed over 4200 times. Most of my videos took less than an hour to produce, from start to finish, so the return on investment is quite huge.? It’s good to know that something that takes so little effort to put together is getting used so frequently.? For me, web video offers a great way to reach my users.
This is a video that I put together last week to address a complaint that a faculty member had with her students’ research. The students were finding one particular resource and overusing and over-citing it in their projects. To address her concern, I put together this video and posted it all over my Business Blog, Biz Wiki, and I even listed it in the course management system. I could tell via my blog hits and the stats on Blip.TV that the video was viewed by quite a few students after they got the message through the class email system. (I’m embedding YouTube here to avoid confusing the hit count, but I generally use Blip.TV as my primary method of distributing video.)
The video only took me about 30 minutes to put together, using my Flip Mino camera and Camstudio to record the screen. I wrote the script out the night before on the back of an envelope while waiting for a pizza to cook in the oven. The script was basically just an outline that explained what I wanted to talk about and in what order. The entire video is just 3 separate clips, all shot with one take for each clip. I trimmed and joined the 3 clips in Windows Movie Maker. The entire project was done before a 9 a.m., including uploading, encoding, and distributing to Blip.TV. I deleted junk email and made coffee while the video rendered on my computer, so I was able to do other things while working on the project. The video is not perfect, but I don’t think it has to be to get the job done. I also think the video is a bit more persuasive than if I had just sent all of the students an email.
What are your thoughts? Are you using video in a really cool way? I’d love to learn what others are doing.
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 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.
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.
This week I had the pleasure of finishing Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow on my PSP. I’ve had the game about a month, and with off-and-on play times, I was able to finish it relatively quickly. It generally takes me forever to finish games, but the game had a pretty good story that I wanted to see through to the end. A couple of days after the fact, I’m very pleased to have finished the game, and am longing for the next chapter of the game. This is my second Syphon Filter game that I’ve completed on the PSP. I’m already looking forward to the gameplay of the next Syphon Filter game, but I also want to see where the story goes next. While ultimately fulfilled with the game and its challenges, I longed for a deeper understanding of the characters, their histories, and their futures.
My buddy Paul Waelchli writes extensively about the game’s narrative and how he was initially looking for more in the game’s story. He and I agreed that there was a lot lacking in the story compared to previous Syphon Filter titles. However, after investigating the game further, as any good gamer should, he discovered that much more of the game’s story was revealed in the hidden evidence files that he collected throughout the game. Ultimately, after reading the hidden files, he’s come away from the game completely satisfied with the game’s resolution. After reading his post, I’m looking forward to going home tonight and reading the hidden files myself so I, too, can dig a bit deeper into the story.
After some reflection, I’ve wondered why the game designers didn’t just put the entire narrative out there so that everyone could see it. The answer to this relies in one of the core fundamentals of gameplay. Playing games is all about choice. While Syphon Filter is a fairly linear game, the player can choose to play the game however he wants to. He can fly through the levels, blasting everyone in his path and causing a huge ruckus, or he can try to sneak around and use stealth to complete a mission. The player can take time to explore every nook and cranny in the game to uncover hidden evidence files and other secrets, or he can simply stick to the well-defined path. The player can choose which weapons to use and how to use them. There are even incentives built into the game that encourage the player to play the game in different ways. For example, as a player I get medals (which unlock more guns and other goodies) for using my knife more, for using the environment more, for using my sniper rifle more, and for simply surviving a level. Basically the game rewards players for playing how they are most comfortable, while offering incentives to play the game in an entirely different way. By offering the hidden evidence (which unlocks more story elements) and the medals (which unlocks more guns and additional game content), the game designers are encouraging gamers to not only play how they are comfortable, but to test themselves with new ways of play. The player is rewarded for trying something new, for stepping outside of his comfort zone.
What’s important here is that the game didn’t force any of this down our throats. As players in the game, Paul and I could choose how we wanted to play. We both finished the game within a day of each other, and we both really enjoyed our experiences. However, we both likely played the game in very different ways. He may have opted to use his knife more, I might have chosen to use my tazer gun more. Nevertheless, after finishing the game, we both reached the same conclusion. Also, since the game encourages replay with all of the unlockable content, we’re both very likely to return to the game in the future and try to play the game in differnt way (harder difficulties, with different weapons, more exploration, etc) in order to unlock more content. We were rewarded for our mastery of the game, the game will continue to reward us when we master the game at a new level.
So how can I take what I have learned about this game and about myself and apply it to my daily life as a librarian? Here are a few initial thoughts:
1. Recognize that research is a game. The goal may be a dissertation, an address of a long-lost-friend, or a statistic for a speech. Trial and error helps the researcher unlock the information that they need, and each researcher may approach the process differently.
2. Recognize the need of the patron. Like the game, we need to realize that not every single researcher wants spend enormous time to unlock every single nugget of content. Sometimes they just want three articles. And that’s it.
3. Wait for users to drive the research process. If after showing the patron how to find three articles, and he asks “how do I know which one is good?”, then you can show him how to evaluate the resources. We should not expect that all users will want to master research in the same way. Just like the example from Syphon Filter, if they are left wanting more, they’ll let you know if they need more hidden evidence.
4. Understand that it takes time to hold the controller correctly. When I first picked up a PlayStation controller, it took me forever to figure out where all the buttons were. For each game, the buttons are assigned to different purposes. However, gamers eventually figure out which buttons do what. Likewise, we need to understand that each interface (Google, OPAC, Ebsco, etc) are likely to have the same buttons, but perhaps slightly different functions.
5. Encourage mastery. This may be as simple as saying, “If you need more help or get stuck, come back and see me.” As librarians, we hold the key to unlockable content that can help complete the researcher’s story. It’s our job to let them know we are available to be their guide.