Last January, when Professor Andrea Ward (Biology) asked me to conduct five information literacy sessions for the BIO 112 laboratory students I wondered how to get the students engaged and involved in a two-hour library instruction class. Professor Ward and I have been working together on this information literacy project since Spring 2007. In the beginning, I worked with a small group of students from two sections of the BIO 112 laboratory classes taught by Professor Ward. The number of undergraduate biology students attending the information literacy sessions increased over the years and this spring, I instructed 114 undergraduate students in five sections.
The instruction that I currently provide to BIO 112 laboratory students is designed to teach them: how to identify different types of articles published in science literature (e.g., research articles, literature review articles, and articles written for nonscience readers); how to find research articles searching a database; how to read the elements in a bibliographic citations; and how to locate articles using print, electronic journals, and Interlibrary Loan (ILL) services at Adelphi University. At the end of each session, an informal written assessment takes place to obtain students’ feedback.
I try my best to keep my classes interactive by asking questions and giving students hands-on experience on searching databases and locating full-text articles. Although, I want the students to actively participate in the discussion, many of them show a lack of interest in learning the “library stuff.” As I get tired of receiving unenthusiastic responses to my questions, I wonder what I can do to improve student participation in class and their information literacy skills.
In the past as I had gone through the library instruction assessment forms, I noticed a few student comments, such as “she should ask if we knew the stuff already,” “we have all had this same lecture four or five times before.” This concerned me. I asked myself, “Did many of the students already know what I had covered in class? If they knew everything, why didn’t I see more participation in class?” I wanted to know whether they really knew the material beforehand or whether it was merely student perceptions about their own abilities. I was anxious to find a way to gauge the gap between student perceptions and their actual knowledge.
A few months ago, I heard a fellow librarian at a professional meeting who played games with clickers to wake up the “sleepy heads” in her early morning library instruction classes. I had never used clickers in my classroom before and I liked the way she used the technology to get everybody’s attention. Other things that I liked about the student response system, or clickers, were the anonymity of the respondents, instant feedback, and guaranteed participation from the students present in class. So this spring, when I was asked by Professor Ward to provide library instruction to the BIO 112 laboratory students, the clickers became my choice of technology to boost student participation in my classes.
To avoid “survey fatigue,” I used 12 multiple-choice questions to poll students in each class. Among them, three questions dealt with student perceptions about their own information literacy skills. Six questions were set to determine whether the students could identify peer reviewed research, literature review, and popular science magazine articles from a sample of six biological science-related articles that I selected from a variety of journals and magazines. All biology undergraduate students who attended the library instruction classes this spring participated in the polls. The results were displayed in colorful pie charts divided into sections with percentages of the total number of students who picked a particular option as the correct answer. The instant feedback from the clickers greatly enhanced the classroom discussion about the formats and characteristics of different types of articles published in science journals and magazines. The anonymity associated with the clickers made it easy for me to point out the incorrect answers without embarrassing anyone in class. The results obtained from those five clicker sessions clearly demonstrated that there was a significant difference between student perceptions about their own information literacy skills and their actual knowledge. Moreover, it reinforced the need for library instruction in our undergraduate biology curricula.
After the library instruction sessions were over, I looked at the student feedback. Among many positive comments on the use of clickers and my teaching style, I noticed one that said, “she talks too much, half of it is nonsense!!” I was really glad to know that half of my lecture made some sense to that commentator. Who can deny that half of a loaf is better than no bread?