In an earlier blog post, I explain that I’ve figured out my teaching style. In this one, I prove that I didn’t and don’t really know much about teaching yet. (That’s the first step in learning, isn’t it?) I’m only just recently starting to use active learning techniques. This is an explanation of my first and very successful attempt at it.
Earlier this week I taught a class of new undergraduate students about the research tools that are available to them. It was one of my best teaching experiences to date, and it was totally different than my usual teaching style.
A little background about this class: they are required to learn about the research tools available to them, but they usually have no research assignments in the quarter they take this class. As a result, the instruction can’t be applied to anything they are currently working on—so they tend to, understandably, zone out.
I knew what I had to teach, but I had reservations about doing it the usual way. In the past I would give them an overview of the websites they would (hopefully) be using and demonstrate how to use them. This time I wanted to do something different.
I decided to break the students into teams. I made signs for each website I wanted to go over: RefWorks, OhioLINK, Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar, and WorldCat. I taped each sign to a monitor in each group of computers. When the students arrived, I asked them to choose a website and a seat. Once we were ready to begin, I had each row work together to fill out a handout that asked what the website was for and how it should be used. When their handouts looked filled in and their conversations were starting to go off topic (about 10 minutes later), I asked them to present their findings. Each group presented about their website, and I added any useful information they missed.
If a presentation covered topics that were too vague to imagine, I performed a brief demonstration. The Academic Search Complete group went before the OhioLINK group, so when OhioLINK came around I was able to draw the connection between them. OhioLINK is the website through which we access Academic Search Complete, but students often misunderstand OhioLINK as the database itself. After all the presentations were completed, I provided a handout that included how to log in from off campus and all the URLs to the websites we discussed. Then we took a break.
After the break, I asked the students to write down what kinds of people get tattoos. I had the students to talk with the others in their row to come up with one answer. After a couple minutes, I asked for their ideas and drew a mindmap with “people who have tattoos” in the center and their examples stemming from that. I explained that they had just brainstormed more specific examples of an idea, something they will want to do when they search for information for their research. They loved that!
I then explained linking words (Boolean operators without the scary name) and had them to try it out on Academic Search Complete using another handout as a prompt. We went over the handout and I asked them why they had more results for OR than for AND. It really seemed to help them understand.
When the class was over, I requested that they write down one thing they learned and one thing that still confused them. (I used to provide questions like, “How likely are you to use this information?” and “How much did you know previously?”—more evaluation of me than assessment of their learning.) I got some great information from that.
The whole thing was a combination of other people’s ideas. The part before the break was inspired by Erin Dorney. It was based on my understanding of her library instruction style. She splits her students into groups, asks them to explore a website, and has them report back to their class about it. The part after the break was from Michael Lorenzen on LibraryInstruction.com and worked like a charm. The assessment at the end was inspired by Catherine Pellegrino‘s ACRL webcast on July 19, “Classroom Assessment for Information Literacy Instruction.”
I’m trying to use more active learning techniques in my instruction. In this class, I used think-pair-share, recasting, minute papers/freewriting, and scanning. It worked fabulously for this level class, and I think it will work well for higher levels too… Now I’m trying to figure out how to do that.
Do you use active learning techniques in your instruction sessions? If so, what activities do you plan?