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Greetings from King of Prussia!

November 10, 2008

Greetings from King of Prussia!

The PaLA Annual 2008 Conference has begun. The College and Research Division has lined up a very impressive slate of speakers this year. Unfortunately, I can’t attend them all, although I’d like to.

The first session I attended was on Sunday afternoon, entitled, “Researching Student Searching’. The session was comprised of two sets of speakers who addressed student learning from two different angles. The first 2 speakers, Kate Carter, Digital Initiatives Coordinator, and Spencer Lamm, Digital Initiatives Programmer/ Analyst, both of Swarthmore College. They discussed the findings of the Swarthmore Digital Initiatives Group which tested some of the myths or assumptions held by students attending the Tri-College (Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford). After making the caveat that their findings would not necessarily apply to other institutions, they discussed the findings and how they impacted their services.

Myth 1: Students don’t use the library anymore; they pretty much start and end with Google.
In reality, 40% of the students they surveyed did start their searches with Google and/or Wikipedia, but usually for those topics about which they knew very little.
21% start with JSTOR (!), which they had learned to use in high school and tended to go to by default
14% start with Amazon to identify books on a topic that they want, and then move over to the catalog. They reported liking Amazon’s search capabilities and being able to get some results, unlike searches in their catalog which often resulted in 0 ‘hits’
The remainder (25%?) began their searching in various subject databases including one ‘outlier’ who reported beginning searching in Lexis-Nexis (!)

Myth 2: Students want the single search box that searches everything the library has.
Reality: To test this myth, the Digital Initiative group observed students actually using Metasearch (360Search). Students initially reported that they really liked the concept of being able to search everything; however, as they used it they reported disliking the search interface and the results. Why? Overall, they found the process user-unfriendly and tedious.

Myth 3: Students will transfer the technologies they use in their personal lives (like Facebook) to their academic lives; AND students want to express themselves by adding tags and reviews to library web sites.
Reality: Students did not thinking tagging would be that helpful if done by other students. They thought it might be helpful if their professors tagged. In short, students did not want to take the trouble to tag and do reviews, nor did they want other students to do it. What did they want? 91% wanted spell check in the OPAC. And many of them mentioned wanting a new EZBorrow interface.

Essentially, students wanted technology that worked and they wanted it customized. When they were shown WorldCat Local, they liked many of its features but did not like the lack of customization. The Digital Initiatives group noted that many of the next generation catalogs (like VuFind and Library Find out of Oregon) are not quite ready yet. So the question is, how to improve what is already being offered in their catalog called Tripod. The Digital Initiatives group has begun offering bookmarklets so that users doing a search on Amazon, for instance, can easily check and see if it’s in Tripod. offers code that can easily be individualized for a library.

Kate and Spencer also reported using Library Thing for Libraries for Tripod. Simply send your ISBNs to Library Thing, and they will supply tags. Look for more information on the PaLA Conference Web site.

The second session was entitled, “Teach Them to Fish! Incorporating Active Learning into Information Literacy Sessions for Developmental Students,” given by Rachel Rohlf, Harrisburg Area Community College, who gave a very engaging presentation discussing active learning strategies she uses with developmental students. For those not familiar with the term developmental, this refers to students who must take remedial classes to get their skills up to speed before they can take college classes for credit.

Rachel began by showing the ‘Learning Pyramid’ which illustrates the different modalities by which people learn and how much they retain with this modality. At the top of the pyramid, which people retain least, is the ‘Lecture’, followed by Audio-Visual (i.e., movies), Demonstrations, Discussion, Practice, and Teaching Others.

Preparing ‘active’ learning sessions, using the bottom of the pyramid requires a lot of preparation on the instructor’s part, but is less work in the long run. It also means sacrificing quantity for quality. You cannot ‘cover’ everything in a single session. This is a problem with some faculty because — they want it all! One way around this is to use instruction menus with faculty, to find out exactly what their goals for the session are and to let them see the amount of time each will take.

So what types of instruction do they offer at HACC? They offer individual subject-specific sessions, of course, as well as their Library Workshop Series, for which some professors give extra credit to students for attending. And they also teach a component of the College Success class for the developmental students for 4 weeks. The bulk of Rachel’s session was devoted to describing the learning activities she uses for this course. They have found that providing lots of repetition to these students help them master the content. Some successful activities include:

  • Using Guided Note Taking – during a session, the instructor provides a worksheet which students have to complete by filling in the blanks. This means they have to listen carefully; the definitions are written out, students merely have to listen for what the term is that’s being defined and fill out the sheet. Graded assignments are based on these guided notes
  • Narrowing topics – rather than just telling students to narrow a topic, they have them work through, in small groups, some practice topics that actually are narrowed
  • Hands-on scholarly vs. popular – criteria for evaluating them are provided, and then students work in groups to practice working on identifying different types of periodicals and tell why they are either scholarly or popular
  • Dewey Decimal Game – students are assigned a number and have to line up in decimal order
  • Boolean Operators – students have to respond by standing up in groups of 1) who is wearing blue jeans, 2) who is wearing blue jeans OR pants, 3) who is wearning blue jeans AND pink — and then explain what is going on
  • Concept blocks — helps students break down their thesis statement into component parts; helps them identify synonyms, Boolean identifiers, etc.
  • A GOOD Treasure Hunt (yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus) — Students work in a group with assigned roles like time keeper, note taker; every group has a DIFFERENT assignment (key), and then the groups report back to the larger group and are given a GRADE for completing the assignment (also key)

Last of all, Rachel shared her favorite web tool for creating online games for students to practice various skills — It’s relatively cheap for a one year subscription ($49 for individual, group rates available). Go to and check out some of the quizzes others have created. Just go to Library Science to view a list of games.

Rachel offered to send her slides to anyone who emailed her at rsrohlf (at sign) hacc (dot) edu. I dare say that many of her suggestions can be adapted for regular students. — LN

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