Save the date! February 13 2012 workshop “Assessment in Action”

Are you ready to learn more about library assessment tools? Do you want some ideas on how to start talking about assessment with your faculty? Mindy Thuna and Simone Laughton will continue the discussion that Megan Oakleaf began at the ILU session in December.

Learn about some of the successful (and not so successful) strategies and methods that have been employed at UTM to gather data on the information literacy skills of our students. Participants are invited to bring one example from their own experience. Together we will apply an instructional framework, deconstruct and discuss these examples.

Dates, times and registration options will follow in the new year. Mark your calendar today!


Megan Oakleaf – December 14 2011

Over 50 librarians from across all libraries at the U of T devoted a full day to discussing and learning about library assessment and library value, with the help of University of Syracuse iSchool professor Megan Oakleaf. Megan Oakleaf @ U of T Libraries

What a great day. Not only did Megan share much evidence-based information on teaching and learning assessment, but she so obviously modeled everything she taught. Confident, articulate, funny, energetic, and really REALLY knowledgeable, Megan made it easy to learn and gave us many insights and strategies to help us invigorate our library instruction.

Our favorite activity of the day… the snowball! We wrote down a question that we are wondering about, based on what we have learned so far. Then we crumpled it up and tossed the “snowball” into the centre of the room. Then each of us picked up a ball (not our own), opened it, and wrote down an answer to the question.

The snowball exercise was a great way to get peer sharing into learning, and to help us realize that even though a peer may have a question, another peer may have a useful and productive answer for it!


A university president tosses library sentimentality out the window

John Lombardi, President of the Louisiana State University System, was a panelist at the ARL-CNI Fall Forum on October 13-14 2011. Lombardi’s provocative comments challenge our continued perception of libraries as the centre of the university. He demands that we frame our pitch for resources away from the “greater good” to one that helps our university compete and win against their institutional peers.


Looking to better understand quality assurance

Quality assurance. Value-added. Measurement of outcomes. These are more than buzzwords; they’re things likely to impact our practice. They’re also related to the Megan Oakleaf ILU day next week, “Building the case for librarians in the classroom: Communicating the value and assessing the impact.”

I went looking for more understanding of the background in the following article – it was on the reading list for an OISE course on higher eduction (which I ended up not taking), so I assumed it was a good place to start.

Clark, I. D., Moran, G., Skolnik, M.L., & Trick, D. (2009). Chapter 5: The impact of quality and accountability measures on system responsiveness. In Academic transformation: The forces reshaping higher education in Ontario (pp. 113-136). Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

The authors provide an overview of the discourses and practices surrounding quality and accountability measures, both within higher education generally and in Ontario. They briefly survey their emergence; discuss the concept of quality and the practice of quality assessment; describe the Ontario scene; and discuss the influence of quality and accountability measures on the behaviour of colleges and universities.

The chapter is too dense to easily summarize. Some key points:

  • The broad purpose of the various measures and structures is to allow the various stakeholders (governments, the public, the institutions, the students, etc.) to “tell whether students are getting a good education” (p. 114).
  • The notion of quality and quality measures are subjective, often politicized, often co-opted for other purposes, e.g. funding, student recruitment, defence of the status quo (this is not a surprise).
  • “The literature on quality assurance emphasizes the superiority of the outcomes, value added, and student experience conceptualization of quality, and accordingly institutions and provincial agencies would be well advised to embrace these rather than the resources and admissions selectivity notions of quality” (p. 136). So, for example (and as I understand it), this creates the impetus to measure what students learn in our classes (outcomes measure) and not simply how many classes we teach (input measure).
  • More research is needed. However existing research may be ignored if it doesn’t fit with pre-existing notions of quality. For example, research has generally found no correlation between a professor’s conduct of research and their teaching effectiveness. The authors point to a belief in such a correlation as an “enduring myth” (p. 131).

The authors don’t always provide the clarity I was hoping for, particularly in the section on Ontario, where they don’t always make clear the purpose of different agencies, their influence, or their relationship to one another. A chart would have been helpful. The area is a complicated one, however, and I would probably benefit from circling back to this chapter after more exposure to the topic.


Tri-Campus Business Librarians

This fall, UTSC librarians reorganized from a functions-based model to a subject model and I became the subject librarian for management, computer science, and math. At a conference in May, I was introduced to Laura Anderson from the Business Information Centre at Rotman. She offered to give me a quick overview of the most popular business resources. That meeting led to several other meetings, to which Mike Meth from UTM added his expertise. Since then our informal group has grown to include librarians working in closely related areas from Robarts and the Martin Prosperity Institute. These meetings have taught me who does what within business, data, GIS, government documents, and collection development areas at UTL and who to call when I am stumped by a question or request. Beyond UTL, Laura and Mike have also introduced me to an Ontario-wide business librarians group. I am certain that without the connections I have made all this would have taken me a long time to learn.


CTSI Seminar: How to Keep Your Students Engaged

A few librarians attended the November 3 CTSI session Keeping Your Students Engaged with Astronomy instructor Mike Reid and CTSI faculty liaison Martha Harris.  Here are some highlights that should provide some food for thought. (Thank you Elena Springall, Patricia Bellamy and Joanna Szurmak for sharing your notes.)

Student heart rates will start going down after 5-10 minutes once they have settled into the classroom. The only way to wake them up is to stop talking and get them to do something.

The point of the lecture is for the students to ask questions; not for you to talk. Alternatively, ask a challenging question before you teach and have students work on it in groups. 

Ways to foster engagement:

  • Reducing intimidating factors and increasing student-instructor interaction
  • Recognizing individuals, talk to individuals, not the group;
  • Think Relevance-Based Instruction: Start by asking students “what is interesting in this to you?” This will kindle their motivation. There should always be a very good reason why you are teaching something, and you should make that explicit. (You teaching) does not equal (students learning). Always return to the WHY question — why should I learn this?
Even with a large introductory class, use class time to have your students experience something they cannot get any other way.  This will show them the value of your class vs. YouTube lectures from somewhere else.
Benefits of a big class: 

  • Many ideas circulating at any time – lots of room energy.  Someone will  always ask a question or volunteer with a demo;
  • Consider audience response systems like iClickers, coloured cards or even show-of-hands, but do not use them naively.  Students should discuss ideas / questions in groups, then think and then respond, not regurgitate facts.  You can use feedback from the clickers to see how well students understand the topic.
Recall is affected by rehearsal, so get students to practice what you want them to know as soon as possible.
Use virtual office hours: synchronous (chat) or asynchronous (discussion boards). Discussion boards are better than e-mail because you answer a question once and everyone can benefit.
When you use PowerPoint, make it visual. Aim for ONE idea per slide and little (or no) text.