Problem based learning: We tried it!

A psychology instructor asked me to teach a one hour class for her third year Gender Relations class (n=60).  She wanted me to cover PsycINFO and general library search tips, but there isn’t a research assignment this semester.

I was nervous about engaging third years when their grade for the class isn’t at stake, so I turned to problem based learning for inspiration. This active learning strategy gives students a real-world scenario and has them work in groups to solve it. Librarians act as facilitators during the class.

With my colleague Heather Buchansky, I organized the 50 minute session as follows.

Welcome: 5 minutes

  • Break ice  (We used evidence from Project Information Literacy to show that research skills are important for after-graduation, too.)
  • Explain activity

Small groups of 3-4: 20 minutes

  • Create a concept map of provided real-world scenario
  • Generate a list of keywords to be used in searching
  • Search for sources in PsycINFO and other databases as desired
  • Document searches on worksheet
  • Select “best” three resources and copy onto worksheet in proper APA
  • State if sources are primary or secondary

Large groups of everyone with the same given scenario: 10 minutes

  • Debrief the previous step (discussion questions provided)
  • Assign a group member to document the discussion on a public Google Doc (link provided in worksheet)
  • Pick the single best resource from each of the smaller groups’ top three picks

Whole class debrief: 15 minutes

  • Ask questions (student)
  • Comment on Google Doc or student questions (librarian)

What went well

  • Students really engaged with their scenarios, and expressed a desire to learn more about the topic.
  • Students said that they appreciated the opportunity to collaborate on a search since they normally work alone.
  • I overheard groups discussing topics that would have been covered in a traditional IL class (ex. evaluating sources, narrowing search results).
  • There was a good ratio of librarians to students: two librarians for 39 students.

What we’ll do differently next time

  • Run this activity in classes of at least 90 minutes.  Most of the students commented that they felt rushed, and we felt bad cutting great discussions short.
  • Get students to take a minute to look over the whole worksheet and ask questions before jumping into it.
  • Change the concept mapping/keyword selection phase individual instead of group-based.
  • Give an example of a concept map and explain why it’s useful. Some of the students had never heard of it before.
  • Show access points for popular databases through the library website. Students didn’t always know where to find PsycINFO or how to discover other databases even though we put it on the handout.
  • Keep the larger groups to 8-10 people. One group was too large to foster effective discussion.
  • Make sure that at least 15 minutes is set aside to debrief the activity as a class.

Session materials

Huge thanks to Heather Buchansky for helping me plan and facilitate this new-to-us class style.


Big Data in Biomedicine

Euan Ashley on Bigger Data from Genetics and Genomics

“…At the Big Data in Biomedicine conference held [at Stanford University] in May, leading figures from academia, industry, government and philanthropic foundations gathered to explore the vast opportunities for mining the growing volume of public health data and developing new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. Several of the talks from the event are now available on the conference website.

In the above video, Stanford cardiologist Euan Ashley, MD, discusses the difficulty inherent in ultra-detailed personalized health analyses and how to parse out the complexity of biological networks. Ashley says, “One of the themes of this conference, and one of the themes of big data, is that although we need to think and try to understand biology at a global level, if we want to translate things to patient care, we have to act locally.”

Even without a background in science, it’s easy to understand Euan’s examples of surprising and valuable ways that big data advances scientific research.

(thanks Jeff Heeney for the link)


What can liaison librarians do to support and encourage use of our less popular but outstanding databases?

As part of the June 13 2013 liaison librarians event on acquiring and deploying e-resource collections at the U of T, Dan D’agostino provided an overview of the Oxford Bibliographies and Sage Research Methods Online.  These are excellent tools but receive low use. Many faculty and grad students aren’t aware of them.

Librarians discussed how they could increase awareness of these types of tools among key users.  They shared these ideas with the group

How can we communicate with our users about OBO and SRMO?

  1. Insert a link to these resources when appropriate in course-specific Libguides
  2. When we send an email to instructors, don’t just promote the entire resource, find something within the resource that will resonate with that particular faculty member’s interests. Be targeted in your approach.
  3. Connect with graduate student organizations in departments and GSU generally to promote these resources
  4. Connect with undergraduate student unions in individual departments, promoting content in the resources that will be applicable to these students’ interests (Rita will be getting the list of departmental UG unions in September)
  5. Suggested that the low stats for these resources might need additoinal review, as some librarians indicate more robust use of OBO than stats would suggest.
  6. Connect with faculty about something else that really interests them, then inject an “oh, by the way…” on OBO or SRMO
  7. When faculty request materials to be added to their reading lists, suggest these as additional ideas for consideration if they are appropriate.
  8. Reach out to TAs in specific departments to show-and-tell these tools.  They may be interested in them for their students but also for themselves. Consider offering workshops for departmental TAs
  9. Check the calendar for your departments, and look for classes that focus on research methods.  Reach out to instructors in these classes to make them aware of how these tools can help them.
  10. Get Coursebuilder status in Portal courses for your department (ask the instructor to add you as a Coursebuilder) so that you can add these resources.
  11. Add these resources (with explanations) to your customized Library Resources pages in Blackboard using the FIXIT tool (available though the staff intranet)
  12. Find out who sends out weekly departmental newsletters to faculty and/or grad students, and ask them to insert a short blurb on the benefits of one of these resources.

You can also view the raw idea capture from the event.


Article: Tacit Knowledge and the Student Researcher

I love this succinct post by Barbara Fister on the kinds of knowledge we in the library world (or we over the age of 20!) may take for granted: Tacit Knowledge and the Student Researcher.

Having electronic access to materials creates the expectation that everything is a mere Google-search away, but our systems of organization are more complex. This sounds sort of obvious, but it’s nice to have the pieces of this confusion laid out: discipline-specific databases, call numbers, and journal volumes are all pieces of the research puzzle that students don’t necessarily know they need.

It sounds like Fister will be adding to this great list. Do you have other suggestions? I would submit that the purpose of an Abstracting & Indexing service is unclear. This is the case whether an OpenURL resolver is included or not, since there is an expectation of being able to click through to the article.