July 24, 2012

Hangouts for instruction librarians

Annie, Lauren, and me after a couple others had left the hangout
I've started a group for newer instruction librarians to talk about instruction via Google Hangouts. We don't have regular meetings, but it will probably wind up being 1-2 hangouts per month. Some of the topics we've covered so far include getting respect from students and instructors when looking young, classroom management, assessment, and game mechanics in instruction.

It's nice to talk to other people who also are somewhere on the spectrum of feeling a little unsure of themselves as they gain more confidence in the classroom. And fun to get to see people I miss spending time with between conferences who are scattered across the country.

Some things we discussed worth sharing:

  • Getting respect: I agree with Annie Pho, that if wearing a blazer and high heels (or an equivalent) feels like playing dress up, it's not going to do much for you. Dressing up in that way is just not my style. I think it's not as necessary where I am now, working with mostly undergrads, but in a different setting with maybe older adults it could make a different impression. One thing I suggested that has worked for me (particularly when I was teaching a lot at the community college), was to mention my Master's degree when introducing myself. Not in a gloating sort of way, but just to establish that the librarians went to school for an advanced degree and also that I'm not just a student worker, like I had often been asked. This made an impression on the students I think, but instructors should (I hope) already realize librarians have the MLS. Lauren Bradley pointed out a good thing to do too, is include your degree in your email signature and be sure your signature appears in all communication.

  • Classroom management: this can really depend on the instructor. The instructor will create an atmosphere in the classroom that will carry over to the one-shot, and whether s/he stays or not can also make a difference. I'm still figuring this out myself because I'm not the best at being stern. I think this takes time to get good at.

  • Basic search/instruction tips: when we were talking about our thoughts on the Google Power Searching course (now closed), we got on the topic of how to explain things to students without jargon or overloading them with information. After reading the C&RL News article about teaching the catalog and databases through Facebook last year, I've used analogies for students when necessary. For example, relating databases using keywords rather than full sentences, where you can type a whole question into Google (even though that's really not recommended) it works. Databases don't work that way, so I give the example of when you want to go to your friend's page on Facebook, you type in your friends name, and not "Yo, where is Bob?" The name = keywords. Incorporating some humor and real world examples that exist in the students' life experience helps a lot.
I'll be taking notes as we continue these hangouts and plan to share, so long as no one minds! I'll be doing a ton of orientations for the remainder of the summer (including one to Graduate and Teaching Assistants that will have about 600 people!), so developing a stage presence is another thing I'm going to have to work on and hope to talk about that more next time.

July 20, 2012

Mystery solved: Assessment of Mystery in the Stacks

Last week, I wrote about the murder mystery, or "Mystery in the Stacks," that we used in our outreach and instruction to a summer program for high school students. This was the first time we had done this program and also the first time we had used a mystery to engage the students.

We received all positive feedback from students and parents... some examples:
"...I wanted to thank you for your coordinating "Mystery in the Stacks".  [Student] enjoyed the day and really learned a lot.  I hope you have it again next year…I will pass on the excellent rating. I wish AYU would put this program on for adults!”
 “...He really enjoyed the class - the Dante book especially made a big impression. He said the librarians were cool - praise from a 13 year old, hard to come by!”
 “[Student] had a great time at the Mystery in the Stacks. He really enjoyed it and, honestly, couldn't stop talking about it for hours!” Thank you all for  your hard work and a great day. “

We were so pleased to see that the students had fun and the parents seemed to feel the program was worth the money and time. The other question though, and perhaps more pressing, is did the students actually learn anything?

They did solve the mystery with essentially no help needed from me, so I would say so. I sat in the computer lab while the students were solving the mysteries to answer any questions and provide instructional support, so I was able to witness their problem solving processes. Overall, they really did do everything right and retained what was taught during the instruction portion to help them solve the mystery. There were just a few minor snags that I think could have been worked into instruction and/or planning....

  1. In the second clue, the students are prompted to search Stedman's Medical Dictionary to understand that the medical examiner means dehydration as cause of death when she lists the synonym, exsiccion, in her report. I saw a student immediately jump to Google instead of even trying the medical dictionary, and of course I said, "Hey now! You want to make sure your information is accurate, so use the medical dictionary to find the answer..." And when you search Google for the term, nothing really comes up anyhow. I think I should have stressed more the uncertainty of Google. Of course it is good for quick definitions, I use it all the time, but for specialized information, using a trusted source actually saves more time.

  2. I taught the students the basics of Boolean logic during the instruction portion, and was so happy to see they remembered how to use AND during the catalog-searching clue. However, for some reason when they put the first term on line 1 and the second on line 2, those results differed from my answer-checking when I typed term AND term on one line. I'm glad I caught them before the ran up to retrieve the next clue because they would have been led to an incorrect location based on the catalog results. I hadn't even thought to check this, but now I know.

  3. Google seems to really capture the students' attention, so perhaps spending more time on search tricks and evaluating websites might be good. I covered the difference between Google and databases at the beginning, and showed how they search differently. We talked a bit about credibility and in the second half of the instruction they completed part of a tutorial on evaluating websites. I think maybe spending a little more time on instruction and incorporating some quick games or activities could be good. We chose not to because the mystery was the major hands-on/game portion, but perhaps more specialized instruction would have been good since these kids seemed to be more advanced.
So overall it went pretty great, I think with just a little more time on instruction and maybe a shorter tour would work well. We are now talking about repurposing these mysteries into orientations for K-12 outreach and/or UA students. More on that another time!

July 10, 2012

Library mystery as outreach and instruction

We do outreach to the community, particularly over the summer, and tomorrow we will have high school students visiting the library for a summer workshop on research skills. Since it's more of a summer camp and these are younger students, we wanted to make sure they would have some fun and be engaged... so we are using murder mysteries as our hands-on activity after a short instruction session to prepare the students for detective work.

I think the mystery I created is fun and it works; I'm sure it would be much better if I had more background in game design (working on that), but this at least will hit all the learning outcomes in a cohesive way:

  1. Students will understand how databases work, and what the difference is between library databases and Google.
  2. Students will be able to construct a basic search using synonyms for a broader search strategy.
  3. Students will be able to locate a book using the library catalog.
  4. Students will be able to evaluate websites using the CRAAP test.
  5. Students will be able to use information appropriately by citing sources in APA style.

Assessment will be done by seeing if they solve the mystery, and since they have to write down answers along the way, we can see some of their search process to get a sense of how much they learned during the instruction portion of the session.

The mystery takes them through using different types of resources in the library, including (hopefully) getting value and comfort in asking a librarian for help. In the end, they wind up in Special Collections where they are spending the afternoon, and will solve the case at the end of the day. We decided to tie our instruction to Special Collections so the students get a more holistic picture of the research process.

I am sure I will notice some snags along the way as this is the first time we are doing this, so I hope to do a follow up post about what went wrong and what could be improved. This would be a great way to gamify orientations to the library for UA freshmen, especially for the smaller student success courses, and could then be tied to retention efforts.

See the mystery with answer key here.
(The narrative makes more sense and is more engaging if you read the full mystery here, below is a synopsis.)

The students start off with information that Wilbur Wildcat (the UA mascot) has been found in the library by one of the exhibits. They need to use the library website to figure out which one and where; they are given a clue that the exhibit features two types of music that were influential in Tucson's culture.


Here they get information the police have collected as well as stats from the medical examiner. They find out Wilbur died from exsiccion, which when they are prompted to look up in Stedman's Medical Dictionary from our health subject guide, they realize that this is actually a synonym for dehydration. From that, they are given a riddle to figure out that a five-letter word for a liquid that can cure dehydration is water. They then need to search the library catalog for a book about water and border issues. Once they find a particular book, they need to go to the stacks to get their next clue.


In this next clue, the students realize an important fact was left off the police report: the suspect left a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary at the scene of the crime, open to the page on aliens. Since the physical copy is locked up at police headquarters, they can luckily search the OED online through the library. They must write down the first use of the term alien in science fiction to realize that the suspect is extra-terrestrial. With this info, they then go to the reference desk and are required to ask a librarian for help in locating an article on UFO sightings in Arizona in the last 50 years. Once they find an article, they must write down the citation in APA style; if the librarian approves that the citation is correct, s/he will hand the team their next clue.


Going to the police with the hypothesis that the killer is an alien would probably get the detectives laughed at, so it is suggested in the next clue to get background information first. A great place to start for background info is CQ Researcher. They must look up UFOs in this database and click on the most recent entry (which, unfortunately, is 1996). They are prompted to read about the University of Arizona professor, James E McDonald, who was a pro-UFO meteorologist. He happened to collect dirt samples from UFO sightings, which are housed in Special Collections (I think this is awesome). They locate his name in CQ Researcher, then must search the catalog to find any works by him as an author in the stacks. They will find the McDonald papers which are housed in Special Collections, along with the dirt, and it is there they will apprehend the killer... who in fact isn't really a killer since the medical examiner made a small mistake in pronouncing Wilbur dead: he was simply in a coma from dehydration and just needs to drink some water (keeping it PG).


I'm excited to see how this goes, and how well my portion of the mystery ties into what Special Collections will be covering. More next time...