Active Learning Techniques and Exercises

Panelists (left to right): Rosemary McGill (CSU-Fullerton), Barbara Miller (CSU-Fullerton), Amy Wallace (Claremont), Nancy Getty (UC-Riverside)


1. Amy Wallace (Claremont): Claremont has a flexible instruction team of four to six librarians. An  Active Learning Consultant from the Claremont colleges was brought in to  observe sessions and make suggestions for "lecture-free  learning." Librarians had been beginning sessions with twenty minutes of  lecture, then giving students activities. The consultant suggested using  warm-up exercises which drew on students' previous knowledge to harness  their nervous energy. Focus groups of students were also  convened: students wanted small-group exercises with shared computers,  where librarians circulate to offer help.   Students are asked to begin warm-up activities immediately, even before  introductions. The warm-up activities are then brought into exercises  which lead students through the research process, but can be customized to  their own research. Activities emphasize concepts, not mechanics, which  can be covered through one-on-one interaction during the session. A  packet of sample activities was circulated: attendees may modify these for  their own use. To teach this way, the librarian must "let go of the small  stuff" and not try to cover everything.

2. Nancy Getty (UC-Riverside): In the past, classes began with a twenty minute lecture followed by  exercises. Nancy decided that the problem was that "the most important  three things" to cover change depending on students and assignments. She  developed problem-based exercises to individualize the sessions more.  Students are given a choice of four topics and instructed to begin at the  library web page. The assignment is specific regarding types of  resources, but includes no specific directions. Students work in small  groups, set up so they can mentor one another. Each group appoints a  reported and keeps track of research steps for twenty minutes. The groups  then report to the class. The librarian does not interrupt reporters,  except to provide help when major errors occur: "let the details go!"  This approach has the added benefit of providing feedback regarding  library web page design.

3. Rosemary McGill and Barbara Miller (CSU-Fullerton): In the Fullerton First-Year Program, 150 freshmen come to the library once  a week for four weeks for instruction. Each librarian involved had two  classes, which were co-taught by a set of other librarians. Librarians  added a Blackboard Course Info component last year, first to post grades  and the final exam, then more broadly to facilitate communications between  students and librarians. Some successful components were "Questions About  Last Week" and online quizzes. Online activities got the students  focused. Students liked Blackboard, but there were many sign-in glitches  and a lack of IT support.

One activity asked students to discern between scholarly and popular  articles. Originally, students examined physical copies of  journals. Other groups were asked to examine copies of the same articles  from a full-text database (Expanded Academic ASAP). Some students hated  working in groups. Most were interested in aesthetics and currency of  articles over other criteria. Groups presented to the class, and  librarians learned not to interrupt. One problem was that this  instruction was not "point of use:" those who have course assignments are  more able to understand key concepts. Students hated interruptions in  report. Not point of use, those who have assignments in other classes  comprehend more.

Questions and Answers: 

Q: What about places where specifics are important (descriptors, explode, etc.)?  
A: Design active learning exercises to explore these key concepts.   

Q: What about teaching multiple dbs?  
A: Have groups work in a few different dbs. Try giving out a checklist  of different database features to take home. 

Q: How has active learning affected assessment?  
A: At Claremont, satisfaction levels from faculty and students are up, but  it's hard to administer a quantitative assessment tool. Librarians need  to work with individual instructors to accomplish this. Claremont is  seeing a rise in reference usage, and the quality of student questions has  changed.

 Submitted by Sarah McDaniel, , University of Southern California, Leavey Library