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Understanding the Problem Before You Solve it: Effective Resource-Based Assignments

October 16, 2007

Understanding the Problem Before You Solve it: Effective Resource-Based Assignments
Terry Mech, King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Terry began with the statement that Middle States is concerned with the teaching and learning experience. Terry next ‘assessed’ our assumptions about effective library assignments.

Osmosis – many faculty and students evidently believe they can learn by osmosis.

Full-time students spend about 16 hours a week, about 10% of their total time in a week. Many studies have shown that little learning takes place in class (including in our 50-minute one-shot sessions).

So how do students become info lit? He referenced a study called “Connecting the Dots” which found that a well-designed resource-based assignment increased student retention and learning and their sense of what they can accomplish.

Today’s students — no less intelligent than previous generations. However, they have diverse learning styles & preferences; are visual & kinesthetic learners; have a positive view of technology & their ability to use it.

Students of today —
need to see ‘big picture’ before disaggregating, expect customization & choices; low threshold for boredom; aliterate, read less; self-assured & self-focused; ‘prove it to me’ mentality; wants something in exchange; multi-taskers; take word of their peers over the word of the expert; hate busy work; responds well to ‘coaching’; like to know the payoff, don’t like getting frustrated; weak general knowledge & facts; impatient

Today’s students:
-Like structure & clarity
-Like immediate responses
-Like to solve problems
-Like to apply to ‘real situations’
-Like collaborative work
-Like to share what they know

35% of college students report large gaps in at least one area, and 86% report some gaps in at least one area. However, employers/instructors are more dissatisfied with high school’s skills prep; especially with students’ ability to read and understand complicated materials. So students are aware of shortcomings, but not of scope of their shortcomings.

Kolb Learning Style Inventory
4-stage learning cycle
-Concrete experience
-Active experimentation
-Reflective observation
-Abstract conceptualization

Students 70% are active learners 30% are passive learners
Faculty 46% are active learners 54% are passive learners

Scherdin 2002 studies show that librarians, like most faculty, are mostly introverts

Faculty socialization: faculty share a strong belief in education, yet most never really aspired to be college teachers. Many faculty by nature do not enjoy the social interaction central to teaching (Bess, 1982). Grad schools produce subject specialist not undergraduate teachers.

In past not as many students went to college; those that did, taught themselves to learn, but perhaps because more and more students are going to college.

Faculty view teaching as a very private act; don’t like “unwelcome intrusions.” Most are at the very least not totally comfortable with classroom teaching.

Higher Ed’s dark secrets:
– Despite our rhetoric about higher order learning, most faculty still focus on knowledge acquisition (Cashin & Downey, 1995).

Why give assignments?
-Students acquire and refine critical skills
Reinforce lecture and other materials
-Preparation for future learning activities
-Assess what students have learned
-Apply previous learning in new situation
-Acquire the disciplines’ conventions
-Allow students to explore their interests
-Allow them to work at own pace
-Able to use resources not in the classroom
Encourage independent learning & self-discipline
-Makes the best use of class time

Terry shared his handout, a trait analysis of effective assignments. He emphasized that learning objectives should reflect what you want them to be able to do and to learn. It’s important that faculty understand what assumptions they are making about students’ ability. Tell them what their evaluation criteria; have to know what hoops they are trying to hitting; a rubric is ideal – difficult to write well – however, it makes grading much easier.

Effective assignments break large projects down into smaller tasks; don’t waste students’ time.

VERY IMPORTANT: Many faculty teach the subject, not the student.

Active learning
We comprehend:
10% of what we hear or read, but almost 90% of what we do

Faculty dread
grading/evaluation, disappointment of worse work; nuisances of late/sloppy work; plagiarism

Librarians observe
students are not prepared; students do not understand assignment; students read into assignment or unsure how to proceed

Librarians wonder
what does it take to get a copy of the assignment; how much help do we give students before we send them back to the instructor; why are we hesitant to give instructors feedback on their assignments

Sample assignments, from Lynn Cameron
Worst: Term Paper: Write a 15 page paper due the final day of class
Best: Broken down by week, give instruction where to look for resources; how to cite; not necessarily a paper — could be an pamphlet; define terms (peer-reviewed, substantial); tell students what to consider (issues, for example); begins with the learning objective (Stoloff: ex: in order to write more effective literature reviews, students will read and evaluate reviews written by other students … to determine what makes an effective review.)

Suggestions for librarians
-give faculty feedback on assignments
-work with your teaching center
-focus on faculty who enjoy and talk about teaching
-search out innovative faculty
-remember that real change takes time

Lots of Q & A
Here’s a revolutionary idea: don’t do instruction without an assignment! Can do it nicely,
-do not despair

Innovative fauclty tendencies
-interdisciplinary
-internally focused research (what can I do locally)
-non-traditional background
-identify with the intutitional mission
-are older (more secure)
-enjoy teaching at all levels
-talk about teaching (Holland & Latiolais 2007)

Pop Quiz! Terry went over the T and F answers which examined our assumptions

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