Making a Database Demo Meaningful

by Kaetlyn Phillips and Tasha Maddison
Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Librarians from Saskatchewan Polytechnic interact with the Practical Nursing program at various touch points during the students’ two years on campus. In semester two of the program, to support a case study assignment, the Library provides instruction on evidence-based, comprehensive, point-of-care drug databases. The assignment requires that students determine which prescribed medication is causing problems for the patient. Previous sessions involved an instructor-led demonstration, leaving time for independent exploration of the databases with no formally structured student activity. After considering student and instructor feedback from 2016, the librarian identified that instruction could be more meaningful for students, which in turn would add value to the information and lead to greater student success.

To create a more effective teaching strategy, librarians added hands-on active learning activities. These activities incorporate problem-solving, role-playing, and discussion components which increase student engagement (Rush, 2014). By incorporating active learning, the session shifted from a librarian-centred to student-centred learning environment. In the revised session, after a demonstration and independent practice, students discussed their personal preferences. This active learning component enabled students to gain familiarity with all database options and select one based on their information needs.

After the discussion, students were given 20 minutes to complete a “Medical CSI” game. It required students to form groups of three, with each group member using a different database. Students analyzed a profile listing the patient’s age, gender, conditions, current afflictions, and prescriptions. The profile featured an unexplained symptom and students used the drug databases to find the underlying cause. If a group was able to find the answer to the mystery on all three databases, they won a prize or could choose from the ‘Box of Mystery’– a collection of prizes ranging from candy to printer credit to bookmarks. In addition, the Medical CSI game appealed to students by creating a game-based learning environment, but also incorporated problem-based learning, which involves students working in teams to analyze and solve a problem (Ferrer Kenney, 2008). The addition of competitive elements created a game-based activity, furthering the active learning environment by including collaboration, peer discussion, role-play, and creativity, which increase student motivation and engagement with the materials (Rush, 2014).

To conclude the lesson, participants were asked to complete a quick assessment. The ‘Exit Slip’ used the 3,2,1 format, and participants were asked to list three things they learnt, two things they enjoyed, and one thing to improve for future sessions. Feedback from the exit slips was positive, with 10 of the 13 exit slips mentioning enjoyment of the activity for its hands-on approach and unique problem. Additional comments praised the rewarding of prizes, especially the ‘Box of Mystery’.

While the changes to the lesson are considered a resounding success, the session was not flawless. One problematic element was students’ hesitancy to form teams. This problem has been identified in research literature discussing game-based instruction and team activities (Watson et al., 2013; Turner, Ketchum, Ratajeski, & Wessel, 2017). The cause of this hesitancy is unclear, and could be related to a mix of factors including physical space, class dynamics, or pre-existing beliefs about library sessions. The easiest solution to these issues is incorporating more active learning activities, which will serve to change the pre-existing attitudes students and faculty have about library sessions. In addition, consulting with the program instructor about the session and expected group can provide the librarian with a better understanding of the class dynamic.

Ferrer Kenney, B. (2008). Revitalizing the one-shot instruction session using problem-based learning. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(4), 386-391. Retrieved from

Rush, L. (2014). Learning through play, the old school way: Teaching information ethics to millennials. Journal of Library Innovation, 5(2), 1-14. Retrieved from

Turner, R.L., Ketchum, A.M., Ratajeski, M.A., Wessel, C.B. (2017). Leaving the lecture behind: Putting PubMed instruction into the hands of the students. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 36(3), 292-298. doi:10.1080/02763869.2017.1332267.

Watson, S.E.; Rex, C.; Markgraf, J.; Kishel, H.; Jennings, E.; & Hinnant, K. (2013). Revising the “one-shot” through lesson study: Collaborating with writing faculty to rebuild a library instruction session. College & Research Libraries, 74(4), 381-398. doi:10.5860/crl12-255

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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