Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Report Abuse   |   Sign In   |   Register
TL v60n3: Life Beyond the One-Shot: Librarians Teaching a For-Credit Course
Share |
 

 

Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 3
 

 2010

 

 Life Beyond the One-Shot: Librarians Teaching a For-Credit Course

 by

Lane Wilkinson

and

Virginia Cairns


Reference and Instruction Librarians
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

 

Current Issue | Archives | Call for Papers | Contributor Guidelines | Contact Us

Presented at the 2010 TLA Annual Conference: Librarians involved in instruction are usually relegated to an ancillary role supporting the curriculum of faculty teaching credit-bearing, full-semester courses. However, the unique skills and pedagogical experiences of instructional librarians can be harnessed to create for-credit, university courses. This paper describes the experiences of a library team at the University of Chattanooga at Tennessee who designed and taught a semester-long, credit-bearing Freshman Seminar course on Internet tools and information management tips aimed at Millennials. Details on planning, implementation, and curriculum development for librarians are discussed, as are relevant positive and negative experiences that have and may arise in similar 15-week library instruction courses.


 

Introduction

Librarians involved in university instruction are usually relegated to an ancillary role supporting the curriculum of faculty teaching credit-bearing, full-semester courses. More often than not, droves of college freshmen rotate through their assigned “library day” with little—if any—further instructional contact with the library and almost no sense that librarians are teachers, too. So, it is little wonder that the very idea of a full-semester course designed, taught and graded by librarians carries a certain amount of novelty. Embracing this novelty, the reference and instruction team at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga used the opportunity to teach a credit-bearing course as a learning lesson about classroom management, curriculum design, and student attitudes. In teaching the one-credit course titled Beyond Facebook, the librarians at UTC gained fresh insight and learned valuable lessons that will carry over into future for-credit endeavors as well as the traditional one-shot library session.

The Library had tried at least once in the past to get approval for a credit-bearing information literacy course, but the proposals were never successful. General education requirements are already very strict and individual majors also very crowded with required courses. The general feeling among the instruction librarians was that the idea of a for-credit course taught by librarians was dead in the water at UTC. Then, in January of 2009 a call for proposals came out inviting interested faculty to submit ideas for all new one-credit topical courses that would be offered as companion electives to the optional First Year Studies program: USTU125.  The call specifically sought to ideas for "interesting and engaging courses" on popular topics that would be of mutual interest to both students and faculty. Sample course titles included "Inside the Criminal Mind" and "Star Wars and the Roman Empire". Several librarians immediately took interest in the idea and we added the call for proposals to our next Instruction meeting agenda.

Within the Instruction program at UTC, we usually begin any planning process with a brainstorming session where we generate a long list of ideas to work from. So when we sat down to discuss drafting a course proposal, our first step was to white board all the ideas we could come up with for potential content and then narrow it down to the best prospects. We knew at the outset that we did not want to present a traditional "information literacy" curriculum or scare first year students away with a serious-sounding research skills class. We knew we did want to include some of the Web 2.0 tools we had recently worked with in our "Learning 2.0" staff development program and that we felt Millennial students might not be familiar with. After filling a white board with ideas, we concluded that no matter which ones we included, we needed some sort of "hook" to make the course appealing to students upon seeing it listed in the catalog. We wanted something catchy that attached the course to popular culture or current events in some way. We quickly realized that our strongest potential "hook" was to use the word Facebook right in the course title, as it is clearly the one social networking tool that all students already know and adore. We tossed around a bunch of different ideas that played off of the Facebook name and finally settled on Beyond Facebook because it was short and conveyed a central theme of the course: that there is much more to the internet than just Facebook. 

Beyond Facebook was more than simply a great sounding title, it was also a natural fit with the skills and expertise inherent in academic library instruction. In particular, the instruction team was able to capitalize on the embedded nature of library instruction, the availability of new technologies in the library, and the librarians’ natural facility with Web 2.0 technologies. In sum, Beyond Facebook catered as much to the librarians’ tastes as it did to the interests of UTC freshmen.

Lupton Library is heavily invested in the University Studies program for incoming freshmen, offering workshops and library orientation to all first-year students. Students at UTC with fewer than 30 earned credit hours are required to take University Studies 125 as a general education requirement. This holistic introduction to university life is explained in the Undergraduate Catalog (2009) as a means to expose students to the academic community including the nature and purpose of a college education, expectations for academic success, academic resources and opportunities, learning beyond the classroom, and special emphasis on academic and career planning (p.115).

Since the inception of the University Studies program, the library has been heavily invested in this curriculum. Library orientation is a required part of the class and reaches the majority of incoming students. Further, USTU 125 students are required to attend a minimum of four distinct university events or activities and included among these are a series of popular workshops offered in the library on topics ranging from plagiarism to research strategies to citation tools such as Endnote Web. Finally, the University Studies program encourages students to enroll in a section of USTU 199, a series of interdisciplinary seminars designed to complement the USTU 125 curriculum. Given that the library was already embedded in USTU 125, an extension to the USTU 199 seminar program was a means of achieving library involvement in all aspects of the first-year experience.

The majority of first-year students also enroll in composition classes as part of their general education requirements. These required English 121 and 122 courses (Rhetoric and Composition I and II, respectively) feature a mandatory library session that is wholly integrated into the curriculum. So, first-year students at UTC can expect library instruction on at least three separate levels within their first semester alone: orientation, workshops, and Rhetoric and Composition I or II. Adding a library-lead section of USTU 199 thus completes library involvement in the first-year experience by achieving maximum impact and exposure.
However, being a featured player in the freshman experience was only sufficient to establish the need for a library-lead freshman seminar. When considering course content, the role of Lupton Library as a campus resource for new technologies was crucial in making the final determination. Consider the changing role of academic libraries in the digital era as bibliographic instruction moves online with increasing rapidity. As Johnson (2008) explains, "[t]he academic library serves as the environment in which teachers discover new tools and create new resources, learners collect and locate their own resources, and educational technology specialists add to the growing list of possible resources as well" (p. 471).

This push towards adding educational technology in the library classroom is pervasive and unique when compared to other academic departments. Generally speaking, library classrooms are stocked with the computers, software, projectors, clickers, or other technologies required for hands-on technology-based instruction. Hence, Beyond Facebook, as a technology-themed seminar, was a perfect fit with the library’s computer-oriented classroom.

Furthermore, the particular uses of technology in libraries tend towards a Web 2.0 and social media focus. Lupton Library maintains a presence on Facebook and makes use of Web 2.0 services such as YouTube, RSS feeds, Delicious, and others. As recent literature indicates, this is not uncommon in academic libraries, especially as Millennials are beginning to enter librarianship as a profession.

Beyond Facebook: Round One

In preparing to teach the course the first time around, the Instruction team agreed to divvy up the course content and each take turns leading the discussions over the course of the semester. Our instruction load is already fairly heavy at UTC, so distributing the instruction across several librarians seemed the best way to cover the course without adding an undue teaching burden to any one person. We settled on an initial teaching team of six librarians: Virginia Cairns, Jason Griffey, Priscilla Seaman, Caitlin Shanley, Beverly Simmons, and Lane Wilkinson. Virginia Cairns served as the "Instructor of Record" for the course as required by the University Records office for purposes of grading, appeals, etc. To plan the curriculum for the semester, we created a master list of topics culled from our white board planning session and organized into a sequence that alternated text based tools such as RSS feeds and Google Docs with more visual tools such as Flickr and YouTube. There were also a few lectures that were not on specific tools but focused on concepts such as privacy or copyright. The idea was to offer a lot of variety from week to week and keep the content fresh by switching up the instructors, teaching styles and class formats.  The sequence of topics as we structured it for the first semester is listed in the chart below (see Fig. 1).

Topic

Opening Class Day, Introductions, Expectations

You Tube, video sharing

RSS Feeds  and Delicious (Google account for reader)

Internet Privacy and Social Networking (Facebook)

Information wants to be free

Blogs and Blogging

Twitter and Friend Feed

Cloud-based storage

Flickr

Google and Google Docs (pair up for project)

Wikis (and Wikipedia)

Noodle Tools, Zotero, bibliography tools

Class Presentations

Class Presentations and Wrap Up

Figure 1. Topics covered in Beyond Facebook 

The course was administered using Blackboard, the campus learning management system, and the syllabus and weekly topic list were posted there. To go along with the weekly topics, we also created a series of weekly written assignments that students were required to respond to on the message board feature in Blackboard. The assignments were open ended and allowed the students a great deal of flexibility in reflecting on the particular topic or tool discussed in class that week. The only requirement was that the written responses be a minimum of 250 words in length. We also created a final capstone assignment that paired up the students and asked them to use Google Docs to prepare a collaborative presentation on one of the topics or tools covered in the course. The presentations were brief (10 minutes or so) and we asked that they not simply regurgitate what was covered in the course, but to also to share with their classmates some sort of personal reflection or perception about the tool or topic. 

The Instruction team had not had much experience with teaching a semester long course so there was a steep learning curve as we undertook this for the first time. The basic administration of the course (management of the Blackboard site, taking attendance, tracking completion of the weekly assignments, communicating with students about problems) was handled by the Instructor of Record, who attended every class session. One of the most surprising things we learned was that these weekly administrative tasks require more time than we expected when we initially planned the course. Attendance is mandatory for all First Year Studies courses and instructors are required to report absences to the Director of the program several times throughout the semester as a means of identifying students at risk of dropping out. There were a number of students with attendance issues, but careful monitoring and communicating with those students insured that all but one attended the required number of sessions to pass the course. 

While we initially thought sharing the instruction among six of us would be an effective model, there were definitely some drawbacks to this arrangement. Because there was a different librarian teaching the course nearly every week, none of the instructors really go to know the students well over the course of the semester. The students also found it confusing, sometimes not even being aware of the name of the librarian lecturing to them each week, despite us sharing our photos and contact information via Blackboard. Only the Instructor of Record got the chance to really develop relationships with them, and much of that relationship-building came about through greeting them each week while taking attendance and communicating with them afterward about incomplete assignments. The assignments were fairly straightforward to give and to grade, though some students clearly had trouble coming up with 250 words to say on a topic. 

In terms of assessment, student feedback indicated that they found writing weekly discussion board posts for a grade to be "boring". In hindsight we should have offered more variety in the type of assignment required of them. In addition, the final presentations also did not turn out as well as we had hoped. Because they had not been asked to create any other type of assignment beyond a short written discussion post each week, they were not well prepared to take on a presentation requiring group work and more intensive effort over a period of days or weeks. A couple of groups did a nice job on their presentations, but most students submitted very brief outline presentations with only a few basic facts. 

By far the favorite class session was YouTube. The students indicated that they use the site daily and that it is the source for the majority of the media that they consume. All were familiar with the features of the site though few of them had ever contributed a video of their own to YouTube. Many subscribe to particular channels on YouTube (College Humor was tops on their list). At the conclusion of the session, they enthusiastically contributed suggestions for videos we should watch as a class. Blogging was also a popular topic and most students were familiar with the format. The session that caused the most controversy was the one on copyright. Students have little understanding of the meaning of copyright or the intent behind its attendant laws and regulations, and instead simply view the removal or disappearance of copyrighted material from the web as "annoying" or "lame". They are not accustomed to paying for any content online and do not indicate they would be willing to consider paying in the future. They found it utterly incomprehensible that an individual could be sued for posting or downloading copyrighted material and none seemed aware of cases of this nature appearing in the news. 

In summary, the first iteration of Beyond Facebook was an excellent learning experience in terms of curriculum design, teaching model and assessment structure, but we clearly had a lot to learn and improvements would need to be made if and when we taught the course again. Barely a month into the first experience, the University sent out yet another call for proposals to teach topics courses again the next semester. We made the decision to give it another go with the anticipation that we would be able to apply lessons learned. Several fundamental changes lead to a reconsideration of the various pedagogies implemented in the first round of Beyond Facebook. Key structural changes included a reduction in the number of instructors and a different assessment model. Content changes included an emphasis on exposure to more content with less detail. The second round offered several benefits, but brought its own challenges.

Beyond Facebook: Round Two    

Rather than assign a team to teach the course, the Spring semester session was lead by a single instructor, Lane Wilkinson, with three “guest speaker” days. This change, from distributed instruction to a single instructor, was beneficial insofar as students seem to respond better when they can easily identify the instructor/authority figure and the appropriate channels of communication. Dugan and Letterman (2008) corroborate this observation, noting that even though students may prefer team-teaching in some circumstances, the presence of three or more instructors is unpopular and seen as a distraction. This response is mirrored in the anxiety that collaborative teaching can create among instructors with regards to authority, course content, and student perceptions (Preves & Stephenson, 2009). It should be noted that a single-instructor model avoids problems of authority and communication but increases the workload for the instructor of record, so neither method is necessarily preferable to the other.

In addition to the single-instructor model of classroom management, the assessment model changed as well. Rather than assign end-of-semester group presentations (an homologous choice for collaborative teaching) the focus was shifted to individual digital portfolios. Students were required to create a blog on Blogger.com and update weekly with their thoughts on the week’s topic. Organizing student blogs into a “channel” in Google Reader allowed the instructor to easily keep track of student participation and students to view and comment on each others’ work (cf. Bradshaw, 2010). At the end of the semester, a comprehensive record of student attitudes and experiences would be easily compiled and evaluated.

The switch to a digital portfolio obviated the need for class time devoted to presentations, allowing two extra class periods in which to cover additional content. Though most of the content from the previous version of Beyond Facebook was maintained, the instructor was able to include units on open-source and other “free” software, a class dedicated to mobile technology, and a wrap-up course on the future of digital technologies. Again, student presentations are time-consuming and may not fit every curriculum. Pushing the coursework to an asynchronous schedule allows for more time to be spent in class delivering content, discussing concepts, and experimenting with new technologies.

Lessons Learned about Millennial Students

There is a pervasive belief that Millennials are inherently more tech-savvy than their elders and are intimately familiar with digital technologies. Though there is some truth to this characterization of Millennials as so-called “digital natives”, the reality is that the technological skills of Millennial college students enrolled in Beyond Facebook were far behind those of the instructors. Indeed, compared to most of the college students, the librarians were the ones at the cutting-edge of technology. There were four key areas of disconnect identified in Beyond Facebook:  attitudes towards copyright, familiarity with HTML and web standards, time spent outside of Facebook, and the distinction between consuming versus producing web-content.

First, as was expected, college students have very little familiarity with the nature and extent of copyright law regarding their digital selves. Issues of plagiarism and illicit file-sharing are prevalent and well-documented among college students, but the precise reasons for such failures to respect intellectual property are difficult to pin down. In Beyond Facebook, students expressed their confusion over appropriate uses of copyrighted material as a function of their intimate familiarity and use of web content. Despite attempts by content producers, infringing material is uploaded to sites like YouTube every day. So-called “mash-ups” of unrelated content are popular, mechanisms for downloading pirated software abound, and file-sharing services are omnipresent in students’ lives. Indeed, the peer-to-peer file-sharing service Limewire was cited as one of the most commonly used programs among students in the class. If anything, the tendency to download and share pirated material was deemed not to be malicious in intent, but rather a byproduct of the incredible availability of such content. Students simply don’t know that copyright infringement is wrong because they are immersed in infringement.

Second, students in both sections of the course showed a remarkable lack of basic skills relating to HTML and other web standards. For instance, only two out of 18 students could successfully complete an assignment that required them to create a link to a webpage in their blog. The assignment could have been completed by using the ‘embed’ feature in Blogger, using the tag in HTML, or by simply copying and pasting the URL into the post. As the students who could not complete the task explained, they were only familiar with the procedure for posting a link in Facebook. Even though the procedures for Facebook and Blogger are almost identical, the skill did not transfer between services. Other seemingly basic computer skills such as saving a file to a USB drive, subscribing to a newsfeed, installing a program, or formatting a document in Microsoft Word, were similar stumbling blocks. Far from being technological wizards, most students struggled to use services other than Facebook.

Third, the students, as expected, listed Facebook as their favorite website. The extent of its popularity was, however, unexpected. As students explained, it is not simply that Facebook is their favorite website, but that, in many cases, it is the only website they visit. This is not to say that Millennials spend more time on Facebook than other demographics, but that when Millennials use the web, it is rarely for anything other than Facebook. Twitter, Delicious, Flickr, and other Web 2.0 branded services are primarily driven by older users. So, rather than teach tips, tricks, and effective use of Web 2.0 services, Beyond Facebook served as an introduction to the existence of such services.

Finally, the disconnect between librarian expectations of students and the students’ abilities can be described as a distinction between content consumers and content producers. Web 2.0 thrives on an interactive content production. Activities like uploading a video to YouTube, posting regular updates on Twitter or social bookmarking of interesting websites on Delicious are examples of content production—new content is being added to the web. Yet, the students in Beyond Facebook were, with one exception, solely content consumers. They watched YouTube videos, followed celebrities on Twitter, and used social tags as a means of selecting between competing websites—only one student had actually uploaded a video to YouTube or posted a status update on Twitter. In sum, the students of Beyond Facebook exhibited a passive attitude towards Web 2.0 and were far from active with respect to engaging with Web 2.0.

Lessons for Traditional Library Classrooms

When assessing the impact of a full-semester, credit-bearing class in the library, several important lessons for the traditional one-shot classroom become apparent. In broad terms, lessons learned can be divided into two categories: those that inform pedagogy, and those that inform our beliefs about students. In the first category, the takeaway is most apparent with respect to classroom management techniques and adjusting to student feedback. As to librarians' perceptions of students, Beyond Facebook was instrumental in demonstrating that a sizable number of college students are far less tech-savvy than is commonly believed.

Effective classroom management is a balancing act that many library instructors may not fully appreciate. Most of the time, we teach a single class at the behest of a professor who may or may not be in attendance. In such cases, managing student behavior, assessing outcomes, and mediating discussion can be either incredibly difficult (in the case of the absentee instructor) or, when the instructor is in attendance, the librarian may be treated as a “helper”, lacking the authority necessary to effectively lead the group. Of course, these scenarios do not typify library instruction in general, and the average library instruction session runs smoothly and without incident. However, experience as the instructor-of-record is invaluable in attuning librarians to the importance of command of authority when a classroom begins to lose interest or cease to cooperate. We may read about effective classroom management strategies in the professional literature, but applying such techniques is much easier and more intuitive with a little experience as the lead instructor.

With respect to student feedback, acting as a lead instructor for a full semester provides invaluable experience for the library instructor. The one-shot instruction session does not allow an instructor to receive feedback from the same set of students over an extended period of time, so instructional techniques that do not work run the risk of being perpetuated far longer than necessary. The continual interplay between instructor and students in a full-semester course offers a great deal of feedback that cannot be captured in the traditional post-session assessment quiz.

The full-semester class can influence librarian perceptions of students in a positive way. Maintaining contact with the same students over a full semester provides invaluable, first-hand experience with student learning styles. In a sense, the full-semester instructor is at an advantage in seeing how students grow and develop over a long period. One-shot sessions simply cannot provide enough data about student study habits, whether students are completing their assignments, and whether students are retaining information after class has ended.  In particular, the librarians in Beyond Facebook found that students are more likely to study and finish homework assignments when a digital or online component is included and that students retain information best when given a discussion forum, either via Blackboard or blog posts. The lessons learned in Beyond Facebook may be particular to the subject matter, but the overarching message—that full-semester instruction provides far more valuable contact with students than one-shot teaching—remains.

Conclusion

When the librarians at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were given the opportunity to teach a full-semester, for-credit course, it was a learning experience without precedence. Over the course of two full semesters, librarians were able to craft full courses from the ground up. In the process, preconceived notions of course development, classroom management, and student perceptions were altered significantly, if not cast away all together. The takeaway from this process was a better understanding of what pedagogical techniques work best for library instructors and what instructors can do to better engage their students, even in a one-shot class.


References

Bradshaw, P. (2010, March 22). Sharing your Google Reader subscriptions with bundles. (Web log comment). Retrieved from http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2010/03/22/sharing-your-google-reader-subscriptions-with-bundles/

Dugan, K., & Letterman, M. (2008). Student appraisals of collaborative teaching. College Teaching, 56(1), 11-15.

Johnson, W. G., (2008). Educational technology and college librarianship. College and Research Libraries, 15(4), 463-475.

Preves, S., & Stephenson, D. (2009). The classroom as stage: Impression management in collaborative teaching. Teaching Sociology, 37, 245-256.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. (2009). UTC catalog: Undergraduate 2009-2010. Chattanooga: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

 


Membership Software Powered by YourMembership.com®  ::  Legal