This is a follow up to my post on how to teach seemingly boring topics. In this post, I provide some suggestions on how to develop library research skills in college students.
After I posted on teaching boring topics, I received an email from a librarian who is challenged with only seeing students for 50 minutes a semester and trying to make the subject of library research come to life for them. Below are some ideas for how to approach this particular challenge.
While I use the library research skills topic as my example. the ideas could apply to other skill development work you are doing with your students.
Make the exercise self-directed
My first job out of college was for a computer training company. I used to teach 8.5 hour classes on all the major applications. My classes often consisted of 24 people. It was my job to walk them through a series of exercises, step-by-step, and keep them all together.
This was before smart phones. This was a time when the vast majority of people who would come into my classes were about the same skill level, as personal computers were still relatively new, in the grand scheme of things.
As the years went by, fewer people wanted to be guided through a series of exercises together. Our most popular way of teaching classes quickly changed to having individuals come to a classroom lab, but go through self-directed exercises. When they had a question, an instructor was in the room to support them in their learning.
In the case of teaching library research skills, you could come up with exercises that the students could work through at their own pace, with you being present for them to address their questions when they have them.
Structure the activity as some type of a game
I still get surprised when I rediscover how much energy comes into a classroom when the learning is structured around a game.
My husband and I once had a guest speaker come in to our class when we were doctoral students. He had a couple of wrapped gifts with him, which he kept at the front of the room with him when he spoke.
He said that at the end of his session, he was going to give those gifts away as prizes. Our cohort was never as focused as when that man was talking. Even those students who tended to be behind their laptops throughout almost the entirety of our coursework poked their heads out with curiosity to see what would happen.
There are all sorts of games you could play, from using educational technology tools, or even keeping it more simple than that with the awarding of raffle tickets to students who give an answer and then doing a raffle drawing at the end of the session.
Use a back channel
When I spoke with Dr. Stephen Brookfield on episode 15 of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, he reminded us about how introverts can get shut out of many classroom environments. He talked about how he uses a backchannel (Today's Meet) to allow introverts a space to engage in a less extroverted way.
You could have the back channel there for questions or conversation, or you could even incorporate it into a game or activity.
Direct students to explore topics of greatest interest to them
Part of why many library database workshops don't go over well with students is that the examples aren't interesting to them in the slightest.
Figure out topics that would likely be of particular interest to students and build some of the exercises around them. I teach business classes and have my students use the library resources to conduct an industry analysis. I could have my students think about their most treasured possession and then determine what industry it was produced in.
If it is their car, they can research the automobile industry. If it is a book, they can research the publishing industry. And so on…
As I ask them about their most treasured possessions, they could report out on them using the back channel and start to engage with each other that way.
Include brief videos
Sometimes, there's no better way to get something across than with a picture or video. If you created some kind of game for your library research skills workshop, you could have a few students that introduce the game though a video.
You could also have a few students talk briefly about how they have benefitted from the particular skills you're teaching. If you have library student interns, perhaps they could be tasked with coming up with some ideas?
There may even be a video that exists from another institution that would work well for your particular need. Licensing Common Craft videos, like this one on copyright and creative commons on topics you're teaching might be a way to liven things up at the start of a workshop.
[reminder]What ideas do you have for developing library research skills in college students?[/reminder]