A critique of online and live library workshops

Part 1: CLUE (online library orientation)

UW Libraries’ Campus Library User Education Tutorial (CLUE) presented a succinct, yet complete overview of beginning research strategies that freshman Communication Arts students would need. It was especially sage to predict and address the common misconception among teenagers that they can “just look it up on Google,” as shown in Module 2: College Level Research. The librarians do a good job here selling why library services are valuable to academic research and explaining how college-level research could be different from what students may have experienced before.

It is nice that each module in the tutorial is divided into 2-6 minute videos. Since the videos include embedded, interactive quizzes, students can be held accountable for the information if they are required to use CLUE as part of a course. This is also good pedagogy because it forces students to reconsider the most important parts of each module, aiding in comprehension and retention. Because the quiz questions are partially dispersed throughout the video, students are more likely to stay engaged and not lose focus by the end.

An improvement I might suggest would be providing access to an outline or transcript of the modules’ content once a student has successfully completed a quiz as a take-away tool. Requiring students to print their successful quiz results seems a little low-tech, given that the libraries obviously use an advanced screencasting application, Adobe Captivate, to create these interactive videos. Also, sometimes students do not have handy access to printers, making the print certificate requirement cumbersome and/or a barrier to success. We have to be sensitive to the digital divide with hardware access. Perhaps a solution would be to give students the option to click a button to share their results digitally with their instructor.

While I found the content of this tutorial to be very useful and wish that my undergraduate training had included something similar, it would have been a good idea to include a practice database search among the modules, even if the search was completely optional. The quizzes provide comprehension checks, but do not guide students to apply their new skills. It is likely that they soon will be asked to do such in their courses, but offering additional practice in this content might be welcome practice for some. Obviously, database content and search results change regularly, so it would be difficult to verify students’ work or provide something for them to compare to (unlike the controlled responses of the quizzes).

Part 2: A live library workshop

On November 4, 2013, I attended a workshop at a library on UW campus about ACT 31 Resources, which is a law requiring teachers to include instruction on Native American culture, customs and history in Wisconsin. The workshop was led by one of the library’s graduate teaching assistants and a former advisor for the American Indian Studies program.

The setting was relatively informal, since the workshop did not require prior registration and there ended up being a small number of attendees. The presenters arranged the chairs in three or four rungs of a semi-circle, with a notecard sitting on each chair. There were also laptops set up on side tables for participants to complete a short Google forms survey to provide feedback to the presenters at the end.

The primary difficulty during the workshop was a technology failure. The computer that was hooked up to the projector had an unreliable Internet connection and seemed to be struggling to respond. The library staff decided that the machine probably needed to be imaged, but did not scramble to replace the technology by substituting the setup with a laptop. The presenter tried to lead the discussion without the slideshow while the computer caught up, but at one point we had to watch a video from the screen (and speakers) of a MacBook set on a chair.

It is smart to have a backup plan in case technology fails you when you are teaching, but in this case, I would have expected the library to had have anticipated problems with the machine that needed to be updated. The majority of the resources were digital, so low-tech was not a good option. There were lots of handouts available to take away, including articles and teaching strategies, but I might have appreciated a printed list of these ideas compiled on one sheet.

The presenter offered a reward to an attendee who answered her first question, which is a nice way to encourage participation, but it was the only reward offered, which was a little disappointing. (Who doesn’t like free stuff, after all?) We were also guided through an activity idea called “Descriptive Art” as a way that teachers could share Native American art and culture with students in a respectful way. I really enjoyed the interactivity and practical application of this activity.

It was also nice that there were visual, multimedia and discussion aspects to this workshop. I left the library feeling curious and impassioned to learn more about native cultures. I had my laptop with me so that I could take a look at some of the websites the presenters were referring to, and I imagine that it would have been valuable to the other attendees to do the same. The workshop was only scheduled for one hour and the presenters were very sensitive to this by starting and ending on time. They could have included a segment where participants could spend some time hands-on with the resources on computers and talking about teaching ideas, but there simply was not enough time. Perhaps 90 minutes would have been more realistic to cover the resources they were sharing.

(P.S. I didn’t mean this part to sound negative, like I said–I was really enthusiastic afterwards about the content. I learned SO much! I was just making observations and trying to think of ways to troubleshoot some of the glitches.)

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