Last April, I started in my new position as Head of Instructional Initiatives, though for the first four months, I was also still doing the job of Distance Learning Librarian. Since taking this on at the end of July as my only job, it’s been a wild ride. I took a lot of risks, tried a lot of new approaches, and learned a lot about instruction (and our students) in the process.
Just before the break, the Vice President of Academic Affairs came to visit the library to see what we do. I had about 20 minutes to talk to him about library instruction and the progress we’ve made in this area. He was seriously impressed (I loved when he asked us who created our tutorials — as if we’d used some outside company) and stated that he is committed to ensuring that library instruction is a required part of the curriculum for every Freshman (meaning that we don’t have to sell information lit to each faculty member one-by-one).
Meeting with the VPAA gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in this position over the past semester, something I haven’t had time to do during what was certainly my busiest semester. Here are some of the things I was able to get done regarding instruction:
Changing our Freshman Orientation: This was the first thing I worked on in with my instruction hat on over the summer. In our original tours, we dragged the (usually bored) students up and down the library talking at then. In our new tour, we showed them a funny movie and made them go on a crazy scavenger hunt that actually taught them how to use the library. It was a lot more work for us, but a big success and I wrote a post about it here.
Improving our Instruction Statistics: No matter what else I did this past semester, I wanted to make absolutely sure that our instruction statistics went up. While numbers aren’t everything, they do make it easy to show progress. And in the areas I had any control over, the stats did go up. Other than in English (which many of us teach in), subject liaisons teach the classes in their subject area and work with faculty to schedule classes. I would be overstepping my bounds if I contacted Architecture or Engineering faculty to market library instruction. While some subject areas were down in terms of classes taught, on the whole, we taught more in Fall ’08 than we did in Fall ’07. Working with folks in History and Criminal Justice, I more than doubled the number of classes we taught in the social sciences. We also took the percentage of students reached with library instruction in English 101 classes from 50-60% to 89%. How did we do it? I just kept contacting people. Some faculty are very proactive about scheduling instruction, while others need a nudge. After I sent out a reminder email around mid-semester, all but one of the faculty members contacted me to schedule library instruction. We only ended up missing out on three EN 101 classes and we plan to hold voluntary refreshers on research basics this semester in the hopes of catching some of that 11%.
I also marketed some less-structured forms of instruction to faculty. Not every class necessarily needs to spend a full 50-75 minute period with me learning about research. For this coming semester, I’ve developed course guides for several upper-level classes for which the students should already have the research basics but just need some info on where to start researching their specific topic areas. Some faculty members who I’ve never worked with before really liked the idea of this, which is awesome!
Making Learning Active: I get bored easily, so I empathize with Freshman who have to sit for 50 minutes while a librarian lectures at them about how to do research. One of my big goals was to get students more actively involved in the learning process during class so that what we taught wouldn’t go in one ear and out the other. The downside of this approach: we can’t teach as much. The upside: students might actually remember something, making the sessions more useful. I started with English 101, developing a worksheet that students would complete during the library session. We’d teach a skill (like finding books or brainstorming search terms) and then they’d practice that skill with their research topic on the worksheet. Then we’d go onto the next skill and so on. The worksheet not only got them actively involved in class, but it gave them a record of what they’d tried so far in their research. Faculty really liked this idea and many collected the worksheets for a grade. The Head of the English Department stated that the quality of his students’ papers this semester was better than ever before.
I ended up replicating this method in the classes I taught in the social sciences, modifying the worksheet based on what I’d be teaching in each class. In all of these classes, the faculty members collected the worksheets for a grade, which was fantastic. And even better, the faculty members gave me feedback on what students seemed to understand and what they had trouble with. I felt like students were getting a lot more out of the session because they actually had something to do and, in the end, they had a product of their work and learning.
Changing the Way We Do Assessment: In early September, I wrote a post about the way we’d done assessment for English 101 classes thus far, which was basically to measure satisfaction with the session at the end of class. While I like to be liked, I really don’t care if students like me so long as they learn something. Our assessment method told us very little about whether the student absorbed what we taught them and whether or not they could apply it. So, for this semester, we collected those worksheets that students completed in EN 101, quickly graded them, and handed them back. We graded each question on a scale of 0-3, zero being they didn’t fill it out at all and three meaning that they demonstrated comprehension of the concept taught. Each student in the class would end up with a total, but his/her scores for each question would be recorded on an Excel spreadsheet. That way, we could see where students were having trouble and it could inform our teaching. If most of the students were getting 1’s on the question about subject headings, clearly we didn’t teach subject headings well enough. At the end of the semester, I averaged up the scores students got in each class on each question and had some very useful data regarding what we are teaching effectively and what we need to improve on. Knowing what students can and can’t do after an instruction session is a lot more useful than a student answering “Agree” to “The information presented was clear and well organized.”
So what’s on tap for this semester? Well, I only have a few months to go until I start my maternity leave at the beginning of April, but it will definitely be a packed few months. I’m doing a lot of work with the History Department and am now getting into teaching 8 sections of History 108, in which Freshmen have to research a specific country’s involvement in WWI and the Paris Peace Talks (easy if you get, say, England, not so easy if you get Australia). They’ve had this assignment for years and for years I’ve observed confused students wandering through the library not having a clue about where to start. I’m very grateful that they asked for my involvement this time around. I’m doing my second year of teaching students in the Historical methods classes, for which I get three sessions with each class. I’m lucky to have some really amazing faculty to work with in the History Department who are really interested in students gaining the information literacy skills they need to be successful in their discipline. Would that every department were like that! I should have sessions with other departments and will probably teach some of the English 102’s, but I’m guessing that history will make up the bulk of my teaching load.
My big push for this semester is going to be marketing library instruction to faculty. We plan to hold brown bag sessions for faculty in specific disciplines where we talk about new(ish) online resources we have access to in their area, including EndNote Web. EndNote is going to be the hook that draws them in, but our real goal is to get some long-time faculty to become aware of some of the great databases we have and the necessity of teaching students how to use them. It’s all about just being on their radar so they think of us when they’re planning for a big research assignment. Some of the best marketing has actually come from faculty who’ve been impressed with our work. I got a call from a psychology professor who wanted me to teach her Experimental Psych students how to find peer-reviewed journal articles based on the recommendation of one of the history profs. I feel like we’re getting close to the point where marketing will get much easier because we won’t be the ones doing it.
Another big project for this semester is LibQUAL. I’ve been tasked with running our library’s LibQUAL survey (our second time doing this) and have formed a great committee of colleagues to help me out with the marketing, administration and data-crunching (especially since I’ll be away by the time we get our data). To be perfectly honest, I’m not a true believer when it comes to LibQUAL — I didn’t feel like we got that much out of it the first time we did it — but I’ll certainly do my best to make sure we get a really good response rate. The final big project will be an upcoming search committee that I’ll be on to hire for a pretty awesome position. I’ll be sure to post the info here about the position as soon as we get cabinet-level approval and the ad gets posted.
While I did like being a distance learning librarian, I’m loving the challenges that this job brings. I love teaching (far more than I ever thought I would), I love working with faculty, and I love change. This is a job I can’t get bored of since there’s always something new to do and no project is ever really finished. Integrating information literacy instruction into the curriculum of every academic program is a huge goal, and one I could chip away at for quite some time. In spite of the fact that nothing is ever really done, I feel a sense of accomplishment already. I can see positive progress and I know I helped to make it happen. I still feel like I’m flying blind most of the time, throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, but I don’t feel insecure about that anymore. While I’m still not as up on the literature of instruction as I’d like to be, I’ve learned a lot about what works at our library, and that’s a whole lot more important.