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WAAL 2008: Reinventing the Library Class Session

Posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008 in WLA Blog Archive

Eliot Finkelstein, Carrie Nelson, Trisha Prosise (UW-Madison's College Library)


  • "One-shots" - single 50-minute sessions - many, many of us teach these
  • Library instruction "module" is integrated by mandate into certain required courses at UW-Madison
  • 2006: 4,300 students get online tutorial followed by 50-minute session
  • Librarians were repeating content in tutorial and in-person sessions - taking up time
  • Got to a point that script was a Frankenstein's monster, after multiple re-writes
  • Started with desired outcomes, rather than jumping into the "fun part"
  • Literature search - Deb Gilchrist (assessment expert)
  • Bloom's taxonomy - set 7 learning outcomes


  • 3 volunteers from audience were taught in the old way (told how to complete all the steps, then did it), then 3 volunteers that had been waiting in the hallway were taught in the new way (why this might be important to you, you won't be able to do it correctly the first time, but I'll step in to talk you through it)
  • Scenario: How to order food at the "WLA Food Counter" - needed to provide structured, ordered commands from controlled vocabulary
  • Second group of "students" felt more prepared, confident; even though one wound up with peanut butter smeared on the table in front of her, with no plate :) - because she knew what not to do next time
  • Teachers gave context: on the job
  • Allowed learners to try before completely taught method
  • One learner modelled, then learners discussed together
  • Set at ease: told them "this is going to be complicated," "this isn't easy"


  • With old method, engagement was less than we wanted
  • Questions and comments from students indicated a disconnect in learning

Constructivist learning

  • Susan Cooperstein and Elizabeth Kocevar-Weidinger
  • We may think that hands-on computer work after a demonstration is "active", but that's not pedagogists' definition of active learning: activity leading to concepts (not vice versa)
  • Students more comfortable with learning among peers
  • Real-world problem to solve (from students' point of view)
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Teacher as coach or facilitator of learning by chunks, rather than Our Leader

Transformative learning

  • Kelly McGonigal
  • Have to realize that there's something you don't know - motivation
  • Safe to fail
  • Scaffolding - teaching/learning in chunks

Changes made

  • Real world: "If you were an intern in Washington, D.C. this summer, your boss would ask you to do this"
  • Failure is built in - showed them a reasonable search, with 0 results - am I in the right database? are my search terms good? - recovered together
  • Disorientation: search field for database names, not for research terms - we bring them there, then talk them through it
  • Safe failure: Pods of computers - see everyone else having same thing happen
  • Balance between support and challenge - chunking, clues, flexibility with finger on the pulse of the room so you can change the plan if gets too challenging


  • Great student engagement
  • They're realizing that they do not know how to do something they thought they did
  • They want to know how to do this - Problem-solving, Working together
  • Lots of activities
  • Online worksheet - not talking at them the whole time


  • Online worksheet kept in a database - research topic, journal database, search terms
  • Pulled 600 sheets - created a basic rubric
  • 1/4 hadn't chosen best database, 1/5 chose poor search terms
  • High percentage of instructors believe that library module improved student learning
  • Reviewed comments that indicated need to make changes
  • Librarians felt very engaged with new script
  • 80% students chose "librarian demonstrations" as the part of module that helped them most - they were really watching us, because they'd already done exercise


  • What if students don't do tutorial? Required, with embedded quizzes they need to turn in to instructor.
  • How would you do an exercise like this with different classes? 2nd script for separate class - chose hardest topic that I thought wouldn't work - went well. Work with instructor on assignment - ask "is it OK if the search fails the 1st time?"
  • Do you run out of time? Not any more than in past.
  • What do you cut out? Students working on their own topic at the end. We want them to come with a topic, but they might not start research on it during session.
  • Outcomes? How to find a book and article, how to get help, and positive attitude about the library.
  • Electronic worksheet? Web form - we get them there at beginning of class. Outline of some of class session. Narrative background of scenario. Paste in answers. Talk to the person next to you and find out... Students are okay with multi-tasking on computer. Students get copy of completed worksheet emailed to them (and us).
  • Non-traditional students? Mainly traditional undergrads, comfort with technology. In ELL class, did use paper worksheet.
  • Increased library use by these students? College Library is widely used by this user group, so getting them in the door isn't the issue. Anecdotally, getting better questions at the information desk. Recently, a student had already been in a database and found an article, but knew she needed better search terms and came to librarian - this is progress! Before, "I have a paper..."
  • Academic freedom of faculty? Some students can test out, so not required for all. Abbie Loomis, our campus instruction coordinator, was instrumental in getting library module mandated.
  • Used for more advanced classes? Not us yet. Sarah McDaniel, current campus instruction coordinator, has done similar project at other campus.
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