Distracted

Written by Jane Hammons, Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian with University Libraries Teaching and Learning Department

 

What can librarians and instructors learn from Shakespeare and other playwrights or composers that we can use to get, and keep, students’ attention in the classroom?

In Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It, James M. Lang explores the topic of distraction and makes recommendations for strategies we can use to cultivate students’ attention. While his book was not intended specifically for librarians, many of the strategies are ones that librarians could use to help capture students’ interest. As Lang notes, “Teaching fails when we can no longer focus our students’ attention” (pg. 5). And so, thinking about, and strategically incorporating, practices to garner students’ attention should be one of our key focus areas when planning an instruction session, workshop, or course.

Before diving into the strategies, Lang takes some time to explore the broader issue of attention and distraction. He describes a narrative that is likely familiar to many of us, which is the idea that at one point in time, we all were able to focus. But now, thanks to all of our devices, we have lost that ability. Lang, however, challenges this notion, stating that “we have been sidetracked” by “assertive voices who lay the entire blame for our distractible natures at the feet of our laptops and phones” (p. xiii). Instead, Lang argues that we have always been distracted, providing examples of complaints about the inability to concentrate that are found throughout history, well before the first smartphone. Distraction, Lang argues, is natural to humans. And so, rather than focusing on strategies for avoiding distraction, such as banning technology in the classroom, Lang proposes that we instead focus on strategies that we can use to get attention. Lang insists that it is possible for us to get and keep students’ attention but that this must be something that we cultivate deliberately.

And this is where the reference to Shakespeare and other playwrights and composers come in, for these are folks who are regularly able to get, and keep, people’s attention for long periods of time. Based on these examples, and other research into learning, Lang provides several strategies that instructors can use to help keep students focused. A few examples include:

 

  • Create a sense of community in the classroom. As Lang notes, we are social beings, and “we are built to pay attention to other human beings…” (pg. 98). Having students interact with other students in groups or pairs can help them to stay on task.
  • Use students’ names. As we know from those times when we hear our name shouted out in a crowd, “our names have tremendous power to capture our attention” (pg. 107). While this can be challenging for librarians teaching one-shot sessions, there are things that you can do, such as temporary or erasable name tents, that can allow you to use students’ names even during a one-shot setting.
  • Move students, and yourself, around. While this is not always possible due to room configurations, having students move around, or making sure that you move to different places in the classroom, can help to refocus attention. When possible, Lang recommends that you “make your movements around the room deliberate” by standing near different groups of students. He encourages you to “join them in their space” rather than remaining behind the invisible plane that often separates teachers from the students (p. 119).
  • Make students curious. Rather than starting with an overview of learning objectives, start with a question or activity intended to get students interested in the content of the session. For example, show an image and have them consider how that might be related to the overall theme of the class session.
  • Make it modular. Think of an instruction session of consisting of several different short modules, and have each module be a different kind of event or activity. For example, a short lecture followed by a group activity followed by a demonstration followed by an individual writing activity. When possible, try to follow a passive activity, such as a lecture, with a something more active, so that students are switching between modes. As Lang notes, attention degrades over time, so each time you switch between modules it is a chance to recapture attention.
  • Think like a composer or playwright and provide transitions and signposts. Similar to the point above, plays are broken into different acts, with each new act being another chance to regain the audience’s attention. In addition, the audience usually is given a program that provides them with clues to what is coming up and allows them to reorient themselves if they get lost. Providing a similar structure can also help get students’ attention.

 

As you review this list, you may be thinking that you already do many of these things, just as general best practices related to teaching. In this context, the key is thinking about these strategies as tactics for getting and keeping students’ attention, and making sure you are being deliberate about how you employ them in the pursuit of attention.

 

Reference:

Lang, J. M. (2020). Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It. Basic Books.

 

Connecting Instructors with Resources: Introducing the University Libraries’ Instructor Resources Site

Written by Jane Hammons (Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian), Hanna Primeau (Instructional Designer), Amanda Larson (Affordable Learning Instructional Consultant), and Allison Schultz (Library Liaison for the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation) at The Ohio State University.

 

One of the challenges for librarians can be making sure that instructors are aware of all of the resources available through the library. Instructors, meanwhile, may find themselves searching for instructional materials to help students engage with the library and develop research skills, but not know where to go to find them. To overcome this problem, a team from The Ohio State University Libraries Teaching & Learning department has been working to develop a one-stop site where instructors can find guidance for incorporating library resources into their courses, learning more about affordable and open educational materials, and teaching information literacy and research.

Site Development

The creation of the site was a multi-year process that began with a desire to inventory the existing digital learning objects that had been created by Ohio State librarians and staff. The road from this beginning to the site launch did not always run smoothly. The COVID19 pandemic saw three members of the development team given new responsibilities to support the rapid transition to virtual instruction, taking time away from the project. An initial WordPress version of the site was developed and launched in 2020, but then came a new opportunity to transition to site to a location on the library website. While this shift brought new work, the opportunity to have a more visible and easily accessible location for the site was worth the challenge.

Site Overview

One of the major goals for the site was to connect instructors with “ready to share” resources that can be quickly integrated into a course. Resources include videos, recommended readings, and sample activities.

The newly launched Instructor Resources at University Libraries site provides information and resources on a range of different topics, including:

  • Integrating library materials
    • The materials on this part of the site are intended to help students gain familiarity with The Ohio State University Libraries system, with “ready to share” resources that will teach students how to utilize the library catalog, navigate databases, discover eBook collections and more.
  • Locating and teaching with affordable materials
    • This part of the site provides instructors with an overview of the affordability spectrum and gives guidance for locating, evaluating, and teaching with affordable resources.
  • Teaching research and information literacy
    • This part of the site includes resources and activities that instructors can use to help students select appropriate search tools, develop research questions, evaluate information sources and use information ethically.

In addition, instructors can request several pre-made Canvas modules on topics such as synthesizing sources, citation tracing, citing sources, annotated bibliographies and literature reviews. Modules can be downloaded into a course and edited by the instructor to meet course needs.

Resources are available to anyone teaching at The Ohio State University and are intended to be ready to share with students with minimal or no modification needed. Many of the resources are also available to librarians and instructors outside of Ohio State.

Next Steps

While the creation of the site was a long journey, our hope is that it will be a place where instructors and librarians can quickly locate library-curated materials to support student learning. We also recognize that the “launching” of the site does not mean the end of our work. For our next steps, we are developing a plan for the ongoing development, maintenance, and assessment of the site. This involves creating guidelines for how new material will be added to the site, including material created by Libraries’ faculty and staff outside of the development team.

A Different Take on Teaching Plagiarism and Citations

By Jane Hammons, Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian with The OSUL Teaching and Learning Department

In last month’s blog post, my colleague Danny Dotson made the case for a universal citation style, rather than the variety of citation styles used by various disciplines and journals. Reading his post got me thinking of a presentation from this year’s ACRL Conference. In Under Pressure: Rethinking How We Teach Plagiarism, Natalie Hill (University of New England) and Laura Tadena (Texas State Library & Archives Commission) take a “feminist, anti-racist, and equity-informed look at how we teach plagiarism” and citations.  

In their presentation, they make the argument that “traditional anti-plagiarism measures are punitive, harmful, and widespread.” They describe how plagiarism is typically taught with an emphasis on compliance, but without the context that allows students to understand why citations are considered so important. They make the case that focusing on perfect citation format doesn’t really tell us anything about what the student learned. Hill and Tadena recommend that instruction related to plagiarism and citations should focus on the why of citation and should center around functional attribution, rather than perfect format, stating that “proper credit is greater than a citation style.” 

Hill and Tadena also challenge the idea that citation represents a neutral practice, instead stating that “citation is a political act.” When we choose to cite someone, we “give those voices power,” and those that tend to be cited the most are those that already have power. They argue that we should encourage students to critically consider their own citation practices within this context.  

I was inspired by this presentation and included a discussion of their ideas in a virtual workshop I gave on teaching ethical information practices. The audience included both librarians and disciplinary faculty. At the beginning of the presentation, I asked participants to rate their level of agreement with the idea that current methods of teaching plagiarism and citations are “punitive, harmful, and widespread.” Just over half of the participants (N=27) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, about 20% disagreed or strongly disagreed, with the remaining 30% not sure or neutral. In discussion with participants during the workshop, I sensed growing agreement with the concerns raised by Hill and Tadena, as well as a good deal of support for the idea of functional citations. But there was also hesitation. A few participants indicated that they worried about teaching plagiarism and citations in a manner that could be seen as out of alignment with the guidelines provided by the university. Unfortunately, I did not feel that I had a great response to the participants who shared these concerns, and I am interested in hearing what others might have to say.  

What do you think? 

  • Are our current practices for teaching (and punishing) plagiarism and citations doing more harm than good? 
  • Do you consider citation to be a political act? If so, does this inform how you approach teaching citation to students?  
  • Do you support the idea of teaching functional citations? If so, how can we do this in the context of university-wide academic integrity policies?  

Please share your thoughts in the comments! 

For those who are interested in diving deeper into this topic, here are a few resources: 

Baker, Kelly J. “Citation Matters.” Women in Higher Education, (Sept. 30, 2019),  https://www.wihe.com/article-details/124/citation-matters/  

Hill, N. & Tadena, L. (2021). Under Pressure: Rethinking How We Teach Plagiarism. Association of College and Research Libraries Conference Presentation. 

Ray, Victor. “The Racial Politics of Citation.” Inside Higher Ed, (April 27, 2018),  https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/04/27/racial-exclusions-scholarly-citations-opinion  

Salem State University Library, Evaluating Sources: Act Up: Citation Politics Guide developed by Dawn Stahura. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

LaTrobe University, Power and Politics in Referencing 

 

Advice for Teaching at a Distance

Considering current events, our guest bloggers for the month of April agreed that offering advice on designing instruction at a distance might be helpful. In this post, Stacey McKenna, Reference and Instruction Librarian at The Ohio State Newark campus, and Jane Hammons, the Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian with University Libraries Teaching and Learning Department, provide their advice to librarians providing virtual one-shots and other forms of instruction, as well as fun tips for being quarantined. Please ask any questions, or leave any comments below!

– – –

Stacey McKenna:

Creating instructional videos to assist professors and students has gone from being a cool extra service we offer, to being completely necessary. However, creating these videos can be tricky, especially if you’ve never tried your hand at it before. The following are some of my tried and true tips for creating a successful video or screencast.

1.) Make sure you are on the same page as the professor about the research requirements

To help me better understand tricky assignment prompts I will ask the professor to send me the list of students’ topics to make sure I’m on the right track.

2.) Make your videos short and concise

There’s nothing worse than having to slog through an hour long recorded lecture from a professor, and since we can’t do our normal in class activities, there’s not as much to break up our talking time. Create videos that are around ten minutes or less to keep students’ attention, and so they can easily go back and review a research concept that is tricky for them. Make sure your titles clearly label what concept you are discussing in that video.

3.) Ask if you can create a supplemental quiz or assignment to go along with your video

There should always be some sort of assignment attached to any instruction you ever do, be it virtual or in-person. If the professor is worried that students will skip over your instructional videos, request adding a short supplemental assignment.

4.) Demonstrate the reference chat feature

Always, always, always demonstrate the chat feature if your library has one. This is a tool that many students have never used before and can be a grade saver. Before doing this, make sure a colleague is currently on chat and can respond right away so that your video flows seamlessly.

5.) Practice your searches ahead of time

I have heard both sides of the argument on pre-planned searches, and both sides have merit. However, I find it best when recording, to have my search terms and showcased articles planned out in advance since there isn’t the interaction there is in an in-person class.

6.) Use your resources

What’s my favorite part of being a librarian? The fact that each of us has a wealth of knowledge on specific topics that we can’t wait to share! If you’re having trouble recording, reach out to one of your more techy colleagues! Having trouble choosing the right search terms or database for a specific query? Hit up your incredibly knowledgeable and friendly subject librarians!

Recording instructional videos is a lot like doing research. It takes several tries and several failed attempts before it really starts to take shape.

 

Fun tip for being quarantined:

Movie Bracket: Draw out a basketball bracket on a piece of paper with as many head to head matches as you wish. Choose movies to go head to head that you can watch and argue about which is superior. Make sure you don’t include more movies than you think you can watch during the quarantine! You can do this with anything. If you like having enthusiastic debates, do this with anything! Most instrumental character in Star Wars (baby Yoda, obvi), tv show that had the worst finale, most delicious beer, most annoying family member. Be creative!

 

Jane Hammons:

Some other ways you can support course instructors, other librarians, and students during this crazy period:

1.) Keep accessibility in mind

If you create videos, make sure that your videos have captions or transcripts, or both. If you provide a PPT or slides, be sure that the contrast is good and the font size is readable. Some resources that can help include:

2.) Provide alternatives, if possible

This is more important than ever, since most students have lost the ability to use campus computers. They now may be using an older computer or sharing a single computer with family members. They may not have broadband access or may be watching everything on their phones. Think about alternative ways that they can get the same information or complete the assignment. For example, you could create a narrated PPT as a video, and make the PPT (with notes) available to students who are unable to watch the video. Or, you could provide an annotated bibliography or a Word document with screenshots to go along with a video. Some resources that could help include:

3.) If you have time, offer to serve as a practice audience for instructors or other librarians as they try out new technologies

Some instructors or librarians may be feeling nervous about using Zoom or some other technology, especially for a live session. It can be helpful to have a chance to practice first without the pressure of a student audience.

 

Fun tip for being quarantined:

Go back to your childhood or teen years. Spend some time watching those movies or tv shows that you haven’t watched in years (or decades, perhaps?). Have a themed movie day—best movies starring the first actor or actress you had a crush on. Or, listen to music by that band that you absolutely loved when you were 13. Play older video games (I have made it my goal for this period to once again be able to make it all the way through the original Super Mario Bros. If I could do it when I was a kid, I can do it now, right?) Pull out the old board games. Have fun!

 

Teaching as Learning and Exploration

Written by Jennifer Schnabel, Assistant Professor and English Librarian

 

The Teaching & Learning Committee is excited to host a showcase and discussion on December 5. Three OSUL librarians will reflect on their approaches to teaching in a variety of roles and environments and brainstorm new strategies as we prepare for next year. Others will share lightning talks with the group.

In preparation for the presentations on our individual teaching methods as librarians, we met over coffee to identify a common thread that might inspire a robust group discussion. A clear theme emerged: “Teaching as Learning and Exploration.”

Jane Hammons, Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian, shared Annie Armstrong’s article about the ACRL Framework and lifelong learning of teaching librarians (citation and link below). Using this piece as a springboard, Jane will talk about how specific frames, such as “Research as Inquiry” and “Scholarship as Conversation,” can inform how librarians view themselves as experts in specific areas while exploring new strategies, however experimental, to engage students.

Courtney Hunt, Art and Design Librarian, will share how she has used object-based learning and informal lesson planning with disciplinary instructors to facilitate student interactions with unique materials such as artists books. These consultations and sessions have led to collaborative class projects and informed studio and design practices. By remaining flexible and valuing her role as facilitator, Courtney has been able to leverage resources at the Fine Arts Library to spark innovative teaching and research in her liaison areas.

Jennifer Schnabel, English Librarian, will discuss how librarians can partner with disciplinary faculty to design project-based learning assignments such as web sites or physical exhibits. Students appreciate that their research and critical analyses will be visible to audiences beyond the classroom; instructors view the class project as a tangible representation of a collective learning experience. By collaborating with other experts in the library and acquiring new skills, such as facilitating a multimodal project, Jennifer supports teaching and learning beyond the one-shot instruction session while exploring methods of scholarly communication to reimagine the traditional research paper assignment.

Librarians who teach: when have you taken a risk in the classroom? What did you learn? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Armstrong, A. (2019). New models for instruction: Fusing the ACRL Framework and Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians to promote the lifelong learning of teaching librarians. College & Research Libraries News, 80(7), 378 https://crln.acrl.org/index.php/crlnews/article/view/17805/19618

 

You Want Me to Teach What?: Responding to Troublesome Instruction Requests

By Jane Hammons, Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian

It has likely already happened to you at least once, perhaps more than once. You receive an instruction request from a faculty member, along with information on the topics or resources that they would like you to cover. As you review the information provided, your reaction ranges from concern to outright incredulity: They can’t really want me to teach them that!

For me, it was the Dewey Decimal System. A faculty member who was teaching a required introductory course in his major was having his students complete a worksheet on available library resources. As part of the instruction, he wanted me to teach them about Dewey. Of course, the library where I was working at the time did not use Dewey. But even if we had, I would not have wanted to spend a significant amount of class time on the topic. While classification systems can be appropriate for instruction sessions in some cases, I knew that the chances that any of the students would be using books for the course was low. The students did not have a research assignment at that time, and it was a field that was heavily oriented toward journals, not books. I connected with the professor and explained that teaching Dewey would not work, gave my reasons, and made other recommendations for content that I thought would be more helpful to the students at that specific time in that particular program.

Has this ever happened to you? Maybe you are asked to show students certain databases, when you think that others are more appropriate for the course or subject area. Perhaps you are asked to cover content that you think is inappropriate for students at the specific level. Maybe you know from past experience that the instruction session, as envisioned by the faculty member, does not engage the students in any meaningful way.

What do you do in this situation? We all want to form good relationships with disciplinary faculty, and for many of us, the first instinct is to accept any request and try to do what the faculty member requests. But this does not mean that you have to accept all requests, or to teach topics that you know are, for whatever reason, not appropriate. As Meulemans and Carr (2013) have argued, “in order to be an effective teacher, the instruction librarian cannot take such a service‐centered orientation.”

When you do get an inappropriate or misguided request, don’t be afraid to push back. Use your professional experience and expertise to support your argument. Keep in mind that faculty often have only a “vague idea” of how librarians can help their students, and in many cases, “their understanding of the teacher‐librarian’s role is far different than ours.” (Meulemans & Carr, 2013). Although it can be uncomfortable, educating faculty on how the library, and librarians, can best support their students is better for all involved in the long run.

 

Here are a few recommendations for how you can communicate with faculty about inappropriate requests. First, explain what you think is problematic about the request. If you really want to be polite about it, you can put it in the form of a request for clarification on your part. A few examples:

Professor X,
Thank you for contacting me about a possible instruction section for your ABCD 1000 course. Before I can schedule your session, I was hoping to clarify your goals. You mentioned that you wanted me to focus on the Dewey Decimal System. At OSUL, we do not use the Dewey System, but if you would like the students to know about library classification systems, I could spend a small amount of time briefly reviewing the Library of Congress Classification system. However…

Professor Z,
Thank you for contacting me about a possible instruction section for your ABCD 1000 course. Before I can prepare, I had a few questions. You indicated that you wanted me to show students how to use Tool A. In my past experience, I have found that students at this level struggle to use that tool effectively. It was designed for advanced researchers and has a steep learning curve…

 

Second, offer alternatives for content that you think is more appropriate. Explain why you think your proposed content will work better and will support the students in achieving the overall goals of the assignment or course.

However, based on the assignment you have described, I think that class time could be better spent by focusing on the following content…This will likely be more helpful for the students, since it will give them a chance to practice skills that will be directly applicable for the assignment they are completing.

In place of tool A, I think it more appropriate to show them tool B. The overall focus of the two tools is similar, but in my experience, students at this level often find tool B to be more accessible. If your goal is for them to learn how to locate a few data sources for their assignment, I think that tool B will be effective and more manageable for the students.

 

In many cases, this initial communication will likely be all that is needed. Most faculty members will be reasonable. The “Dewey” faculty member accepted my explanation, and alternative content, without hesitation. In my experience, in fact, faculty are often grateful for the recommendations. They make their requests based on their own knowledge of what the library can and does provide, and may be unaware of the range of options that are actually available. There have been several times in the past where I have recommended giving the students instruction on how to use Zotero, and after class found the faculty member was even more excited to learn about the tool than the students.

If the faculty member does continue to insist, don’t be afraid to just say no. We don’t like to turn down instruction requests, but if it is something that you really don’t think is appropriate to teach, or simply can’t teach for whatever reason, there is justification for refusing the request.

Negotiating the content of an instruction session can be tricky. But you shouldn’t let your desire to be helpful override your knowledge of appropriate content for a session. A poorly conceived instruction session will not help anyone. It may get you more time with students, but at what cost? You will have to struggle through a session that you know is not in the best interest of the students. The students will likely think it is a waste of time, and as a result will be more reluctant to engage if they are required to attend additional sessions in the future. And, the faculty member will leave with the same misconceptions about the library that they had coming in. As Meulemans and Carr note, “When a problematic request is fulfilled, it only ensures that librarians will receive more requests like it.”

 

Reference

Yvonne Nalani Meulemans, Allison Carr, (2013) “Not at your service: building genuine faculty‐librarian partnerships”, Reference Services Review, Vol. 41 Issue: 1, pp.80-90, https://doi.org/10.1108/00907321311300893