When you play the game of information literacy… students win!

by Chris Chan
Head of Information Services at Hong Kong Baptist University Library

“Let’s play a game.” These are not words that I usually utter during library instruction. But it is a phrase that will become more common, if the results of a recent experiment are anything to go by.

During my ten years as an instruction librarian, student engagement during information literacy (IL) sessions has been a persistent challenge. I know that the practices and dispositions that librarians are teaching are vital to their success, and in many cases the students themselves recognize this too. Yet the one-off nature of much of the instruction that takes place at my library means that students are often expected to learn these abilities devoid of any meaningful context.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have experimented with various ways to increase engagement. PowerPoints have been replaced with Prezis, and lengthy librarian monologues or demonstrations are now interspersed with questions posed via online polls that students can respond to via their smartphones. Wherever feasible, hands-on exercises are incorporated into instruction. Nevertheless, in our feedback surveys the effectiveness of activities is consistently rated lower than the relevance of the session itself.

In my interpretation, this is indicative of a need on our part to do more to design engaging instruction sessions. How does this relate to playing games? When implemented effectively, games and gamification have the potential to provide the spark that seems to be missing from our instruction programme. As Jennifer Young writes in her 2016 article on using games to teach information literacy:

Good educational games will motivate and engage students, provide context for information in the course, offer satisfying work that puts students in a state of “flow,” and encourage collaboration and social learning.

Of course, designing a good educational game is easier said than done. Many of the games described in the literature are digital, which presents an additional technical barrier. Recently, however, I stumbled across a physical card game called Search&Destroy. Designed by librarians at Ferris State University, it challenges students to use their database searching abilities to be the last person standing. Essentially, players draw keyword and modifier cards, and must run searches on a chosen database. The goal is to avoid running a search that returns zero results.

This concept intrigued me, and I purchased a copy to experiment with it. First I ran through the game with fellow librarians, and it was a tremendous amount of fun. There is definitely a certain thrill to saddling your opponent with cards that make their searches much more difficult (e.g. item must be in French!).

Our next step was to find out if students enjoyed the game as much as librarians. At HKBU Library we run regular learning events for which students receive a required co-curricular credit. As the Library has control over the content of these sessions, they were a natural place to play the game with students in an informal setting.

So on the afternoon of 5 March 2018 I found myself sitting with a group of six students explaining the rules of the game. I served as a sort of referee, guiding play around the circle. They quickly got the hang of it, and became very engaged in the competitive aspects, with some players forming impromptu alliances to gang up on and eliminate mutual foes.

The design of the game produced many teachable moments. For example, one of the cards allows a player to use the OR operator in their search statements, which led to a discussion of why this is beneficial if your goal is to avoid 0 search results.

At the end of all learning events we do a quick anonymous survey. For the Search&Destroy event, all students either agreed or strongly agreed that they had learned something interesting or useful. Qualitative comments included: “very good game, new experience” and “interesting and good”, which indicate that for this small group at least, the activity was successful in teaching search skills in an engaging manner.

While the overall experience was great, after reflection I identified several areas that could be improved or considered further. First, the game took much longer than the expected 15 minutes. I was hoping to fit in at least two rounds of the game, but ended up with just one that took almost 45 minutes. This was partly due to the number of players, and also due to the fact that we used the Library’s discovery service as the database for the game. Because of its wide coverage of full text content, it took some time before players were at risk of getting 0 results. More specialist disciplinary databases could produce quicker rounds.

Another future consideration is how to best incorporate the game into typical course-integrated instruction (as opposed to a one-off event). An activity like this would be great for introductory first-year courses, but such sessions typically have 20-30 students. Running multiple simultaneous sessions of the game in a class would be possible, but quite intensive in terms of staffing resources.

Scaling up in this way will definitely be a challenge, but it is one that I am keen on exploring after this positive initial experience with game-based instruction.

For those attending LOEX 2018 interested in learning more, librarians from Ferris State will be running an interactive workshop.

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

KISS and Julie Andrews: My (unlikely) muses for effective information literacy instruction

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

Perhaps strange bedfellows, but Julie Andrews and the rock band KISS are my muses for effective information literacy instruction.

In the classic film, The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews sings “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” – this little ditty has been a guiding principle for all my information literacy instruction thus far in my academic career.

Starting at the beginning is so simple, and yet, at least for myself, I often assume that I can jump ahead. When I began delivering information literacy instruction to students this earlier this year, I assumed a few things:

1. Students would be familiar with and understand some of the jargon I would be using (search engine, catalogue, index, database, metadata, indexing fields/record fields, Boolean operators, controlled vocabulary/subject terms and many other librarian-y terms)
2. Students would have some familiarity with the databases I was going to be talking about because they had used them in the past
3. Students would be familiar with the library website enough that they could comfortably navigate to things I was talking about

After just one session – that admittedly ended with a group of very confused looking students – I realized that this was not going to work; my students needed to know do-re-mi before they could sing! So how did I fix these issues going forward? By always starting at the very beginning and never underestimating the importance of providing simple navigational guidance – it doesn’t do students any good to know the ins and outs of searching CINAHL if they can never find the database on the library website. I’ve also tried to incorporate informal polls/assessments in my teaching to gauge current understanding about the topic I am talking about and to help me assess where more attention needs to be paid and what can perhaps simply be a refresher. Something that still needed to be addressed was the language I was using when talking with students, notably my use of unexplained library jargon.

KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid – a wonderful little phrase I picked up from my high school history teacher. The premise is not novel but I find that this plucky acronym helps to center my focus when explaining particularly “librarian-y” concepts. For example, did you know that the only people genuinely excited to talk about metadata are librarians and other information folks? Students, for the most part, are not interested in the specific details of data about data, discovery, findability, indexing, etc. I learned this the hard way when talking to a student about how citation managers get the information needed to generate a complete citation. Unfortunately for this student, my librarian brain took over and I talked for a good ten minutes about the intricacies and importance of record metadata. The wide-eyed look I got at the end of my speech told me everything I needed to know, I had not kept it simple and had now confused this poor student. I tried again and slowed down and thought about it from their perspective, what are the essential bits of information they need to know to understand this concept (no more and no less)? I then gave the student a much simpler explanation, something along the lines of “metadata is the behind the scenes information of an item that makes it possible for you to find it. Citation managers can read this information from the item to compile what’s needed to make a citation”. I could practically hear the light switch flip on in their head – they got it.

When it comes to information literacy instruction, our tacit knowledge as librarians can be a double-edged sword. It makes us excellent “knowers of things”, “information wizards”, “database Yodas” and other delightful monikers, but it can be a somewhat unnatural and awkward process for us to actively stop and think about what we know, how we know it, and how we can explain it in simple and relatable terms. I let Julie Andrews and KISS lead the way for me* – start at the beginning and keep it simple.

*I also like to imagine Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp teaching the band KISS to sing using the do-re-mi song so that also keeps things interesting.

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

Information Literacy: Stronger, Together

by Angie Gerrard
Murray Library, University of Saskatchewan

I heart information literacy! I am lucky that information literacy is intertwined with my professional practice and research interests. Most recently a team of us developed a framework for information literacy instruction for undergraduate students here at the University of Saskatchewan. A milestone of this project was a presentation to the university’s teaching and learning committee of council where our work was graciously embraced by fellow colleagues who also share a passion for teaching and learning. An unexpected perk of this presentation was meeting a colleague, who is an instructional designer outside of the library, who was interested in digital literacy.

Digital literacy was something that I did not have much experience with, or at least I didn’t think I did. I wondered how digital literacy was related to other literacies. My brain had been in overdrive trying to keep up with the new and improved concept of information literacy (thanks to the new ACRL Framework) so I questioned whether there was room in my heart and head for yet another literacy. Turns-out …. yes, yes there was!

My backstory: I knew that information literacy was alive and well outside the walls of the library (yay) but to be honest, I really had no idea of the scope. So, a focus of my research has been to try and uncover faculty perceptions and practices of information literacy. What I have learned thus far is that yes faculty value information literacy but not necessarily by that name and not necessarily delivered by librarians. Interesting stuff, right!? My point is that maybe we as librarians need not worry so much about what we call information literacy and who is teaching it but instead, focus our energies on collaborating with those who share our same overarching goals, i.e. improved student success, critical thinking skills, lifelong learning, etc.

Which leads me back to digital literacy. When I first started this collaboration I admit that I was trying hard to figure-out the perfect match and alignment between information literacy and digital literacy. Was there a hierarchy? Was one a subset of the other? What came first, the chicken or the egg? And yes, we were able to find many commonalities and overlaps of these concepts (ex: critical evaluation of information, understanding how information is produced, ethical use of information, etc.). But perhaps more importantly, through this somewhat unknown process, I’ve come to realization that we as librarians don’t always need to be waving the information literacy flag when we meet with colleagues outside the library. We don’t own information literacy nor we should we appropriate others’ conceptualizations of what we deem to be ‘information literacy’. The beauty of the recent reconceptualization of information literacy is that it opens the door to much wider conversations around information, research, teaching, and scholarship. And I welcome this!

To date, my collaborator and I have taught a few sessions on information literacy and digital literacy, mostly to faculty, and we are now looking into the future. We are also at the stage where we are trying to figure out what to call this beast (‘digital information literacy’ is a bit of a mouthful so I welcome any and all suggestions). The point is that we are working together, each from our own context, trying to come to a common understanding and a way forward. And really, isn’t that the exciting part?

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.

EBLIP + IL = SoTL

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

I practiced SoTL for at least 5 years in blissful ignorance of its existence. You too may be a SoTList or have SoTList leanings and not even know it; it may well be time to explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

The research projects I’m currently involved in occur at the intersection of information literacy (IL) and SoTL, and like all intersections it’s an exciting, slightly unsettling place to be. There’s a lot of movement in many directions, a lot of choices on where to go next, and some things just have to wait until there’s a break in the traffic to get going. Standing at this intersection I`ve had some time to think about the links between SoTL and evidence based library and information practice (EBLIP)…
MargyHanoi
Hanoi, 2013. By D. MacMillan

EBLIP and SoTL

SoTL might be described as evidence-based practice in teaching. It is focused, like EBLIP on gathering evidence to understand different situations and/or the impact of different interventions. It uses a range of methodologies and works both within and across discipline boundaries. While it is most obviously akin to evidence-based research in IL, branches of SoTL concerned with technology or institutional cultures may resonate with other library researchers. Much like EBLIP conferences where those who work with bioinformatics data discover common ground with public librarians working with citizen science initiatives, SoTL fosters conversations between people who might not otherwise meet. Academics working in SoTL don’t always get much support for their research at their own institutions (sound familiar?) or within their own disciplines and they value conferences both for finding kindred spirits and for the interdisciplinarity that brings fresh ideas and approaches. Since arriving in this welcoming SoTLsphere, I have enjoyed exploring further – attending conferences, getting involved in SoTL on my campus and currently supporting the SoTL work of colleagues through Mount Royal`s Institute for SoTL.

3 ways SoTL has helped me EBLIP

Methodologies – SoTL work rests on applying disciplinary research methods to understanding teaching and learning. I’ve encountered a really broad range of methods in SoTL work that also apply to EBLIP.

Understanding Threshold Concepts (TCs) – While I had first heard of TC’s at a library conference, this way of looking at learning is a major focus in SoTL and I have been able to bring knowledge from SoTL folks into discussions around the new TC-informed Framework for IL.

Focus on building a community – Some SoTLers are involved with building communities on campuses by expanding relationships, providing support, and developing policy. There are many useful insights here for library initiatives and I have benefited from becoming part of a very supportive, cross disciplinary group of scholars.

3 ways EBLIP has helped me SoTL

Better understanding of diverse literatures and how to search them – This has helped me enter a new field, but also allows me to contribute back to the SoTL community on campus as I am aware of resources and tools for searching outside their disciplines.

Longer experience with evaluating usefulness of small steps and interventions – IL is often assessed at micro levels: the use of a particular tool, or the effectiveness of a teaching strategy, often within a single class. We have developed a number of strategies to examine teaching and learning at this atomized level useful for instructors accustomed to thinking in course-sized chunks.

Understanding how dissemination works – Work like Cara Bradley`s is informing my work with SoTLers in identifying venues for publication, and my next project on studying dissemination patterns in SoTL.

Interest in SoTL among librarians is growing, as evidenced by increasing numbers at conferences and a colleague in the UK who is writing a book about SoTL and librarians (many thanks to Emma Coonan for a great conversation that clarified many of these thoughts and if you aren’t reading her The Mongoose Librarian blog on a regular basis … .well, you should be!). Explore a little, dip into their literature, maybe go to a conference or talk to the teaching and learning folks on your campus… they can use our help and we might be able to borrow a few things from them. Maybe we’re overdue for a change.

3 good reads about SoTL

Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 121-125. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/teaching_and_learning_inquiry__the_issotl_journal/v001/1.1.felten.html

Huber, Mary Taylor and Sherwyn P. Morreale, eds. Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground. Menlo Park, CA: Carnegie Foundation, 2002.

Hutchings, P. (2010). The scholarship of teaching and learning: From idea to integration. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2010(123), 63-72. http://fresnostate.edu/academics/csalt/documents/Hutchings2010.pdf

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.