Notes from the first Practice Exchange – examples of successful teaching practices

Tuesday January 15 2013 brought with it the inaugural Practice Exchange, a meeting of U of T librarians interested in exchanging ideas and information about their teaching. The first session focused on examples of successful teaching experiences.   Below are a few of the things participants mentioned and chatted about as things that have worked for them:

Grading and/or assigning a weight to library/research assignments

Quite a few participants have found that that grading library/research assignments boosts student engagement and aids learning.  Some mentioned that even a weight of 1% can guarantee attendance at instruction sessions, and a weight of 2-5 % of final grade worked well for one library.

UTSC reports very positive results using a sort of ‘pre-assignment’  assignment. In this scenario, a smaller research assignment precedes a larger one, and serves as an introduction to the research task and gets students to think about and get some feedback on their research before the deadline for their larger assignment. The instructor(s) devised a short assignment requiring some article searching and an assessment of students’ own research. Instructor feedback reports much higher levels of student engagement with their research using this structure.  Anyone interested in finding out more about this can contact Sarah Fedko,

One method of grading that has worked well is to grade on a completed/not completed score, rather than pass/fail.

Medicine has found that a shared rubric/marking template for the markers helps ensure consistency when a number of people are grading. They have had success with a fairly a detailed template.

Timing assignments for early identification/self-identification of students who need some research instruction to  allow them time to get ‘non-last-minute help’  works well.

Leveraging the authority and social connections of students :

Making and displaying videos of upper year students speaking about ‘what I wish I had known about the library when I started’. Rewards like a Tim Hortons card for the interviewees helps with participation.

Using student ambassadors to provide peer to peer library instruction. Students first receive training and are expected to produce reports on their experience/learning.

Student societies have proved to be productive resources for marketing library messages.

Talking to student reps from course committees and attending course committee meetings provided great information for sessions that might be useful and interesting to students

Assigning subject areas to residence dons and encouraging other students to approach them for help has worked for UTSC, the idea being that students are more willing to approach other students for help.


Video and photo contests to promote engagement with the library have worked well for UTM and others. Contests also produce a lot of corollary benefits like providing library website content, supplying the winners (and perhaps all participants) with something for their resume, and just generally promoting library good will.

One contest for undergrads on St. George required students to obtain faculty support for their proposal. The library ran related sessions to like “how to write an abstract” and “how to do a conference presentation”.  Benefits include skills training, promotion of library-faculty contact, library-student engagement, and faculty–student contact.  Structuring the contest to let students use work they had already completed lowered the entry barriers and helped encourage participation.

Involving faculty in contests by asking them to judge or vote has been successful.

Possibility: bring others schools into the competition.

One contest required the top 3 contestants to present ‘dragons den’ style to determine winner.

Student societies may be a source for prize money for contests.

Collaboration/moving into non-traditional areas of instruction

Observed: Career advancement and job skills may not be areas we think we have expertise in, but nevertheless we have things to offer and things we can do that our users want in these realms.

Collaboration with other departments is often the linchpin of such sessions and it may be that much of the library effort for such sessions consists of outreach and organization more than instruction per-se. For instance a round robin resume workshop where participants broke up into groups and passed around their resumes to one another then had a group conversation about things they liked or thought worked well. The library’s input during the actual session was fairly light, most of the library’s work for the event was around organizing the event.

A class on “How to read a scholarly article” that proved very successful was another good example. A writing instructor was key to the session, and the library-writing center collaboration premised the session. Students read articles in class, and the library came up with questions for them to work on in groups of two or three. Most of the library input was on the organizing and preparation side as the session was led by a writing instructor.

Potential partners abound. Some examples include the career center, the writing centers, and student societies.


Measuring learning outcomes gaining support: University Affairs

Susanne Tabur shared this interesting article from University Affairs

“…A rising number of universities are adopting student learning outcomes as a means of ensuring degree quality, as well as helping students transition between institutions within Canada and abroad. It is not an entirely new concept — learning outcomes and competencies are common in professional programs like business and medicine, often to meet accreditation standards. But now universities are moving toward campus-wide learning outcomes. For example, the University of Guelph recently adopted 5 learning outcomes for all its degree programs. Other institutions, following in the footsteps of their global peers, are also contemplating adopting learning outcomes, but the trend has not been universally accepted. Some professors vigorously oppose learning outcomes, arguing that they infringe on their academic freedom and autonomy over how courses should be designed and delivered. Some consider the trend as the creep of corporate sector quality-assurance methods in education, threatening to diminish universities to little more than training institutions. ” University Affairs

If you drill down via the above links, you will see the learning outcomes approved at Guelph:

“The five learning outcomes – critical and creative thinking, literacy, global understanding, communication, and professional and ethical behaviour – were approved by the University’s Senate Monday night”[i.e. in December]

Good to see that literacy is on the list.