Tired of seeing your students look like this during your library instruction session?
Photo credit: Jason Scragz
Try this active learning activity with smart phones!
I teach all of my library instruction sessions in classrooms where students have no access to individual computers. I knew that they would never remember most of things that I showed them, and I struggled with creating engaging instruction sessions. So, one day last summer I had a brilliant idea. Why not create a learning activity that involved the students using their own smart phones to search library resources? That simple idea has transformed my teaching.
Every year I teach an orientation session about image resources to graduate students in the art history, studio art, art education and design departments. I thought that this would be the perfect time to try out a learning activity involving a smart phone. In the event that not everyone had a smart phone, I asked them to work in groups of two or three. Then, I let them select a slip of paper, which contained the name and URL of a digital library. My plan was that the students would search this digital library, answer a set of questions about it, and then present this resource to their colleagues.
I gave them the following questions to answer.
1)What resource are you evaluating?
2)How many images does it have? What subject area(s) does it cover?
3)What great features does this site have (if any)?
4)What is the quality of the images like? Can you download them? If so, do you know what size you can download?
5)What are three reasons why this could be useful for this class and/or the study of art?
What I saw was magic. The students were engaged in searching the resource they selected. They were talking to each other. I heard them saying things like “cool”, “I didn’t know that existed”, and “This is great”.
After approximately 15 minutes of searching, I asked them to present the resource to their colleagues. I pulled up the resource’s homepage on the classroom computer, and I navigated to all the things they talked about. I engaged the group by asking them questions as they talked about the resource and about their search experience. Instead of me lecturing to them, the students were able to both learn from and teach their peers about a new resource.
Over the last year I have modified this exercise. I no longer ask students to answer specific questions. Instead, I ask them to develop a list of 5 things about the database to tell their classmates. I also ask them to select a resource from a group of three databases that I have choosen for this exercise. I find that this allows them to be more creative and it gets them to think on a deeper level about the resource. It also gives me a chance to correct any misconceptions they have about how the database works. One of the best parts for me is that I usually learn something new about the resource too, since I am seeing it from a different perspective.
I have had great feedback from faculty. One faculty member told me that while doing the learning activity with their smart phones, the students were the most engaged they had been all semester and this was reflected in their grades on this assignment.
It is widely touted that handheld devices are the future of computing. According to the Pew Research Center report entitled Nearly Half of American Adults are Smartphone Owners, approximately 67% of adults aged 18 – 24 have smart phones. By doing a learning activity involving smart phones, you will be able to promote the mobile capabilities of your library resources and give your students a new framework for thinking about library resources.
I have had great success with this learning activity and I encourage anyone who teaches in a classroom without individual computer access to try it. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about any modifications that you’ve tried.
By Karen Holt, Communication Librarian at The University of Texas at Austin and Editor-in-chief of Librarian Lifestyle. Karen tweets @karenholt. This blog post was based on a presentation that she gave on May 18, 2012 at the Atlanta-area Bibliographic Instruction Group Conference.