Monday, February 18, 2013

Problem-Based Learning Fellows Program

My institution offers a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Fellows Program for faculty members.  After attending a presentation by one of the participants in which he discussed what PBL is and how he used it in his courses, I decided that PBL could be a useful way to do library instruction as well. 

Consequently, last spring, I applied for and was accepted into the program.  One of the questions on the application asked which course we would considering adapting for PBL.  Since I don't teach any semester-long courses, I had to come up with an alternative idea.  Each year, I work with a professor in his general education course to provide library instruction.  More so than any other faculty member, he has always asked me for new ideas for improvements and changes to the assignment that involves library research.  He takes those into consideration and also alters the assignment every time he teaches the course.  Knowing his enthusiasm for improvement and change, I asked if he'd be willing to experiment with PBL in the course, and he readily agreed. 

The PBL Fellows met for two days over the summer to train on the basics.  During day 1, we completed a PBL exercise where we were the students.  On day 2, we co-lead a group of physician assistant students through a day-long PBL exercise.  We paused every-so-often to separate from the students for a while so that we could evaluate ourselves and each other on our performance in the PBL session.  This was definitely very helpful, although my evaluation took place during a time in which the leaders of the PBL Fellows program were not available.  However, many common mistakes were made by the fellows, so it was easy to take away ideas for ways to modify my actions to best fit PBL techniques.

More recently the fellows met to discuss how we planned to implement PBL in our courses.  We were given the fall to prepare and come up with ideas with the expectation that implementation would take place this spring.  Over the winter holiday, I worked with the professor of the general education course to create an outline for the assignment.  Because he is the content specialist, he did most of the assignment creation, and I made suggestions/modifications based on what I know of PBL.  At this point, we have a working outline that probably needs to be fleshed out a bit more.  The PBL sessions will take place over five 75 minute class periods, and I will be participating beyond my role as a librarian. 

I think PBL has a lot of useful applications to library instruction, and I am currently planning to do a series of posts to explain what PBL is, how librarians can use it, common errors made by those employing PBL techniques, and of course, my experiences implementing PBL in a general education course.  Hopefully, this will be both helpful to me as I sort out my ideas and of interest to anyone who thinks PBL might be useful in library instruction.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Hardest Part of Research for Students

In the fall, I put up a feedback poster (previous feedback posters mentioned here and here) that asked students to complete the phrase: The hardest part of research is...

The responses were unsurprising:

I was able to roughly categorize almost all of the responses into the following categories:
  • Getting started: “knowing where to begin,” “starting it,” “the beginning”
  • Avoiding distractions: “ignoring the cat”
  • Locating information: “looking for articles” or “navigating research terms to find the best results”
  • Evaluating information: “being critical about your sources/citations” and “sorting the wheat from the chaff”
  • Organizing sources: “keeping everything organized”
  • Procrastination: “turning on self-control” and “calculating how long you can procrastinate until the situation becomes desperate”
  • Writing the paper: “write up the paper” and “editing”
We then used this as an opportunity to inform students that librarians can help with many of these things.  For the others - procrastination and writing the paper - we directed them to another department called the PACE Center, which offers procrastination and time management workshops, as well as tutoring and writing assistance. 

We posted our response on our blog and in print on the window where the above poster was previously located.  I meant to put it on our Facebook page but since I queued the blog post to go live at a later date, I forgot. 

Speaking of which, is there a good way to tie social media together?  Perhaps some sort of tool?  It used to be that our blog could feed directly into Facebook, but then Facebook removed that feature.  It's time consuming to remember to post these things in several locations, so I'm open to any and all suggestions!