This semester I provided two workshops for the part-time librarians I work with who do most of the teaching in our one-shot library/research instruction program. Although I see them every day, it’s rare that we carve out time to meet as a group and getting together even depends on some librarians coming in on their time off. But we get so much out of sharing our experiences with each other that we’re all willing to give a little extra to make it work. At these meetings I had a chance to facilitate discussion about the Framework, which might seem a little late since it was first adopted nearly three years ago, but it was good timing for us because we recently got support from our college administrators to purchase the Credo InfoLit Modules and it’s helping us to think about the scope of our instruction in new ways.
In particular, we’ve been thinking about how to reach beyond our one-shots in new ways. The information literacy lessons from Credo are one way to reach students before or after we see them in the library. With a little coordination between the librarian and the professor who’s requesting instruction, students can be introduced to concepts like the value of information or the role of iteration in planning a search strategy before coming to the library. Or they can get step-by-step, self-paced practice with MLA citations to follow up on our in-class discussions about how they should expect to use various types of sources in their analysis or argument.
Another way we’re reaching beyond our one-shots is to have students create their own research guide during the session so they can follow their own steps again when they are ready to resume their searches. To ensure that students will have access to their self-made research guides, we have started adapting Carolyn Caffrey Gardner’s contribution to CORA: Community of Online Research Assignments, called Strategic Searching Spreadsheet, which is a Google Sheet template. We customize the steps on the sheet according to what students need when they come in. Sometimes we focus on generating keywords or selecting databases. Sometimes we focus on choosing and analyzing sources. When students return to the Google sheet, they have all of their notes available to them. And we also find that the sheet makes it possible for us to do more accurate formative assessment, allowing us to correct misconceptions or highlight database features as we see students needing the additional information during the class.
As we’re planning for how we’re going to reach beyond our one-shots to provide additional support to students, we use the frames to help us identify likely barriers to students’ success given the requirements of their assignments. Since it’s not always possible to do formative assessments to find out what our students know and need, we turn to the frames to help us reflect on where we should focus our instruction in class and beyond. And now we can also draw upon a list of predictable misunderstandings, identified through surveys and focus groups, that Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and her team have compiled in partnership with Credo. These predictable misunderstandings help us to anticipate and address where our students may get stuck and they remind us of the importance of what Mike Rose calls “intelligent errors” that are signposts along students’ path to developing new skills, beliefs, and behaviors.
I’ve written about intelligent errors in this blog before, since Carolyn Radcliff and Hal Hannon and I presented a panel at ACRL 2015 about the connection between threshold concepts and intelligent errors. It’s a robust approach to formative assessment because it’s a reminder that mistakes are part of learning and that while some mistakes demonstrate lack of attention most errors that students make are their best effort to meet our expectations and should be treated by students and instructors as markers of progress rather than signs of failure. Treating intelligent errors as markers of progress means using them as a starting point for reflection and discussion and observing them closely to see what they reveal about students’ growth. Taking this approach in our own teaching and sharing it with faculty who express frustration about students’ persistent research mistakes can lead to new collaborations that actively engage students.