The March 20th IDP event featured Richard Freishtat, Senior Consultant for UC Berkeley's Center for Teaching and Learning. Richard described the CTL services, programs and resources that are available to Library instructors, which include:
After this introduction, Richard responded to questions about pedagogical issues and challenges. What follows are summaries and paraphrases of the discussion.
Lesson content: Is it REALLY true that we should minimize the number of new things we try to teach to students? I've heard things like, "Don't tell them more than 4 new things in a session. They won't remember."
Richard Freishtat: While it's true that too many new concepts can make recall difficult, there is no rule about the number of new things you can present. Studies show that there is greater retention of new material if you present it in a way that connects the new concepts to existing knowledge. Also, compelling activities such as discussion with peers or hands-on problem-solving can help with retention as well.
Procedural vs. conceptual instruction: In a short 30 - 90 minute session, is it better to minimize instruction on things like database how-to's, and concentrate on higher level stuff, like critically evaluating what they find using databases? If so, when and how WILL they learn how to work these databases? Is giving them an exercise set to work on in their "spare time" a good idea?
RF: I recommend that you focus on higher-order concepts. If you frame the session around higher-order concepts, you can do just-in-time learning for the lower-level ones. Gaps with lower-order tasks will reveal themselves as the students proceed with their work.
Pre-session assignments on the how-to steps might be helpful, but your ability send out an assignment will depend on how much access the faculty offer you.
Recapturing attention after exercise: When I offer the class time to practice the search strategy I've described / demonstrated / discussed, it can be hard to get them to stop searching and discuss the results. Any suggestions for good ways to get their attention back once they've gone off on their own?
Class responsiveness: When I ask students to do a hands-on database exercise, how do I get them to talk about what worked for them and what didn't?
Combatting unresponsiveness: What can we do when the flop sweat starts popping out because the entire class, to a person, is staring stonily at you and seems completely bored? Take a deep breath, yes. But then what kind of activity can turn the class around?
RF: You might use techniques like think-pair-share or 2-2-2. In 2-2-2, after 5 minutes of hands-on work, the students are instructed to form groups of two and discuss it with their partner for two minutes -- what they found, difficulties, etc. Then ask them to take two minutes to share their experience with the rest of the class. Framing it as sharing the findings of their group can make it easier for people to participate, because they don't feel put on the spot as an individual.
This technique sets up defined times to work and to share with the rest of the class -- during the sharing period you can say "I shouldn't hear typing."
Engaging students: I've found that students are a lot more attentive when there is a specific assignment or goal assigned by their professor. But often they come to our session without an expected outcome, and it can be hard to have them either focus on the topics or to see the value of the resources that we're demonstrating.
Student preparation: Some classes begin with students all jazzed and ready. Their teachers have obviously told them the benefit of listening. What kind of advice do you have about how to urge the teachers to prepare their students? What wording might we use in our email/personal contacts with the teacher to get them to do more than announce that they're meeting with a librarian?
RF: You're right to stress the importance of clearly defined outcomes, and learning in an authentic context. You might pose the question to them: what would be helpful to cover today? Ask students to think about the topic, what type of information they want to be able to find, and how much time they have to spend finding the information.
Motivation is connected to relevance -- be sure that you give students the "persuasive pitch": explain that what you're doing is connected to their success with their assignments (earning an A). If possible, give them a concrete example from your experience -- hearing about how library session has been of value to their peers will motivate them most effectively.
Presentation strategies and tools: What are some effective presentations strategies, such as tips for demonstrating a database that are a bit more engaging?
RF: Whenever possible, shift away from the burden of covering too much database-specific content. Focus on skills, not individual databases -- although it's helpful to use examples. Concrete examples are important for establishing relevance, but try to embed them in the narrative of the class or the context of a current assignment.
Course guides, especially if they are linked from bSpace or course webpages, make resources available so that students can return later, and allow students to discover solutions on their own at the time of need.
Online tools: There's an increasing need to teach library and research skills in different online settings and in some cases we don't have any opportunity to interact with the students in person. Are there any pedagogical guidelines regarding when or why you would use an online video to cover content as opposed to, say, an interactive quiz? When does a simple text version of a lesson suffice (if it ever does) in online learning? I feel like we have a lot of different tools at our disposal (slideshows, videos, quiz modules, images, charts, text) but it can be unclear which tool is best suited to a specific lesson.
RF: Look at the framework of desired outcomes, rather than the tools. Will this tool enhance the students' learning? Will it give them an opportunity to engage with the material in a more authentic way? Will it provide different kinds of learning experiences (for example, collaboration)? Are there ways that you want the students to demonstrate what they understand, and if so, how does this tool enable them?
Tools must support your goals: presentation, engagement, assessment. The selection of technology should arise from outcome that you want; don't start with the technology, start with the outcome in mind.
For help in choosing appropriate technologies for your outcomes, getting in touch with UCB Educational Technology Services can be helpful. Also, try different things and see what works most effectively.
Faculty outreach: Library instructors often have trouble interesting faculty/instructors in library instruction, or getting faculty/instructors to listen to our suggestions about assignments. Do you have any tips for reaching faculty?
RF: Faculty will listen to other faculty more than to us; leverage your existing faculty champions. Ask them to write up a blurb about the value of having a librarian give a research workshop -- something you can put up on the web or attach to emails. Ditto a short video interview with an instructor. Push these things out to the CTL and they can put them out to faculty also. Ask faculty champions if they'll take a flyer that you prepare to a faculty meeting and talk about the value of working with a librarian. Look for intact groups of faculty that come together around a topic (for example, the New Faculty Teaching Colloquium).
Too often we blanket messages to everyone -- the more you can target specific groups, the better. As a last resort, you can ask department chairs and deans to carry the message, but that can have a different tone.
-- Corliss Lee & Elliott Smith