Assessing Student Learning During Reference Transactions

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the annual conference for SUNY librarians at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City (yes, FIT is a SUNY school!).

With my exceptional colleague Kim Hoffman, we discussed a small project we did in the Fall 2011 semester to try to assess what students learned at the reference desk.

Our abstract for the presentation and our actual slides are below.  You can also view the slides on Slideshare.net to see the speakers notes.

Going Beyond Anecdotes: Assessing Student Learning During Reference Transactions

Reference services comprise one of the most important teaching opportunities within academic libraries.  While we typically assume that students learn from these interactions, we rarely have evidence to demonstrate what students actually learn.  Librarians at many institutions track the skills taught via reference statistics gathering programs, but we rarely ask students what they find most meaningful.

At SUNY Geneseo, we wanted to know what students were learning via reference transactions, beyond typical counts of reference questions or user satisfaction surveys.   These reference transactions occur in several settings, including at the reference desk, during scheduled reference consultations, and through impromptu questions at various locations.  Building on assessment techniques such as the One Minute Paper traditionally used in library instruction settings, students were given a survey after each reference transaction that simply asked “What did you learn today from your meeting with the librarian?”

In order to categorize responses, librarians developed a list of commonly taught concepts, skills, and tasks seen via reference services and library instruction.  Student responses were assigned one or more items from this list of concepts, allowing us to easily evaluate which skills were most frequently reported.

While this survey explores which concepts students report learning, it does not measure their actual mastery of the skills reported and is therefore an incomplete examination of student learning at the reference desk. Despite these limitations, this study offers a useful improvement to standard reference assessment efforts, typically based on assumptions and anecdotes.

A new venture: the Scientific American Blog Information Culture

Some readers of this blog may be interested in  a new blog I will be co-authoring on the Scientific American Blog Network called Information Culture.

I will be co-blogging with Hadas Shema, an information science PhD student who has previously blogged on some fascinating stuff on her blog, Science Blogging in Theory and in Practice.

As a result, my posting frequency here will probably drop, but hopefully won’t disappear altogether.  There are some things I want to talk about that just might not be of interest to the Scientific American crowd. But we’ll see.

We will be talking about many of the same things that I talk about here: open access, scholarly publishing, sources of frustration in finding information, etc.

Please have a look!

Scholarly Communication: What can my library do right now?

In January, 2010, my library formed a Scholarly Communication Group, of which I am a member.  One of our first activities was to honor a recent faculty publication (Broadway : an encyclopedia of theater and American culture by Thomas Allen Greenfield) that involved many campus authors.  After this celebration, we have struggled a bit to find our role at this small liberal arts college.

WNY-O ACRL LogoIn search of a well defined purpose for our group, I attended the recent Spring Conference of the Western New York and Ontario chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries (WNY-O ACRL).  The conference theme was “Getting the Word Out: Scholarly Communication and Academic Libraries.”  I was hoping to get some ideas of things that we could do NOW, and to look at how we might be able to grow our scholarly communication efforts over time.  I wasn’t disappointed.

What can we do now?

  • We can help faculty interpret their publishing contracts, suggesting the SPARC author addendum when appropriate.
  • We can do the research and legwork to help faculty find a good journal to publish something new in.  They are probably already familiar with journals in their primary research area, but if their interests lead them in new directions, we may be able to help find a publication venue that meets their needs.
  • We can recommend tools and programs to help scholars manage digital information.  Bookmarking from Delicious, Connotea or Diigo.  PDF and reference management with Zotero or Mendeley (among others).  Customizing research databases like Scopus.  And lots more.
  • We can recommend programs and tools to better enable intra- or inter- campus collaboration (webinar software, Google Docs, etc.)
  • We have always offered assistance with literature searching and research consultations, now these activities can be combined under a heading of Scholarly Communication Services

What do I want our library do in the future?

  • Develop an institutional repository for undergraduate presentations, faculty publications, conference posters and presentations and anything else that folks want to put in it.  We need to set up a repository, figure out how we will manage it, and what we want in it.
  • Work with faculty to develop plans and strategies for managing their research data (especially now that NSF grant applicants may be asked for a “Data Management Plan”).  We need to learn about data management.  I suspect that many of our current skills will transfer nicely, but I need to learn a bit about it.
  • Assist faculty with NIH Pub Med Central Deposits (this shouldn’t be too hard to get started with, but we have very few NIH grant recipients at the moment)
  • Present faculty colloquia about scholarly communication issues.  I think we are getting started on this.

The conference sessions also gave me some important insight about how to discuss scholarly communication issues with faculty and administrators.  Austin Booth and Charles Lyons from the University of Buffalo presented the results of some surveys and discussions they’ve done with faculty to gauge faculty interest and knowledge of scholarly communication issues.  The short story is that (no surprise) faculty aren’t particularly interested in the serials crisis.  They are interested in their own publishing opportunities.  As a result, the question of open access (either gold or green via institutional repositories) may best be framed in terms of the impact on faculty publication.  Although there is still some debate, the studies evaluating the impact of open access seem to point to an increase in citations to articles that are freely available.

Although it was brief (just one day) and small (no more than 50 participants) it was an excellent conference that gave me a lot of ideas for the future of scholarly communications in our library.

I really like my job

smiley face stickers courtesy of Flickr user South Carolinas Northern Kingdom
smiley face stickers courtesy of Flickr user "South Carolina's Northern Kingdom"

I enjoy searching for information – tracking down obscure citations and rejoicing over finding a related article in a different field.  I love a search that goes from online resources to older print materials and back again.

I was asked recently to work with a faculty member to do a literature review for a journal manuscript in science education, and I have been having a lot of fun tracking things down.

I had a starting place – a list of preliminary sources and a rough draft of the paper – to guide my work, but it took off in many directions.

So, what techniques have I pursued?

  • Starting from the preliminary bibliography, I can examine the works cited sections of those papers to find additional relevant material.
  • In addition, I can use Scopus to track citations forward in time.
  • Exploring keywords in multiple databases.  Like any search, there isn’t just one way to describe the topic we are searching.
  • Using Google and other specialized search engines to explore the web.  There is  a lot of science education material on the web that has been posted by various educators.

I was working with a topic I found interesting, in a field I am familiar with, with a faculty member who is nice to work with.  It all adds up to job satisfaction.

A day in my life as an undergraduate science librarian

I decided to follow along with a librarian blog meme, the “library day in the life“.  Since it is the summer, my day today is much different than a day during the semester.  The most notable difference is the lack of meetings.  Although the summer is a great time to make changes and get projects done, it can be very difficult to pull together all of the interested individuals.

Photo 4

7:55am – Arrive at work, Make tea.  The day can officially start.

8-8:30am – Check email, calendar.  Lots of folks are on vacation this week, which seems to account for my lack of meetings today.  Accept some future meeting invitations, decline others.  Realize that one librarian who had reference desk hours today won’t be here.  Email colleagues to see if we can split her hours.  Wishing Oracle calendar could actually interface with other things (esp. iPhone)

8:30am – Write up a blog post about our switch from SciFinder Client version to SciFinder Web.  Checking to see if appropriate URLs have been added to our proxy server so folks can get to SciFinder off campus.

8:50am – Got distracted by Explored Barnes and Noble’s new eBook reader for iPhone.  I already have the Kindle reader for iPhone, which I love.  I’d like to encourage some competition in the eBook market, though, so I think my next few purchases will be from B&N.

9:00am – First reference shift of the day, substituting for an absent colleague.   With very few students on campus, and even fewer in the library, this is very slow.  One person asked for tape, but no reference questions.

10am – Another hour of reference for absent colleague.  I will have three hours of reference today, one more than usual.

While at the reference desk this morning I manage to:

  • Catch up on a few blogs
  • Chat with our Sys admin to get some ezproxy settings changed for the switch to SciFinder web
  • Resolve a broken link in the blog post I just wrote
  • Smile and wave at a tour group as they point out the research help desk
  • Review a list of action items for a campus wide committee I’m on
  • Figure out why a link won’t work in our Resources by Subject lists
  • Explore possible ways of fixing that link, which is being problemmatic.
  • Finally fix the troublesome link
  • Smile and wave again at another tour group
  • Added google analytics to our new mobile webpages
  • Answered 1 reference question (How to find a copy of Civilization and its Discontents)

11:00am – Make tea, get a snack.

11:10am – Start cleaning desk.  Constant distractions as I stop to look up interesting things from the pieces of paper I should be throwing away or filing.  Some of the interesting things:

  • Math books from the MAA
  • IOP Librarian Forum on Facebook
  • Articles from sample copies of magazines I picked up at SLA 2009 in June
  • Finally figured out how to import our library blog to our library Facebook page. Did the same thing for my own blog on my own Facebook page. Also claimed the vanity URL for our library page.

12:15pm – Read an article about “making chat widgets work for online reference” from Online magazine (not freely available online).  Passed it along to a colleague who is on the committee working to implement web chat here.

12:30pm – Lunch.  Tried to read a Barnes and Noble eBook on my iPhone, but spent 15 minutes trying to “unlock” the book with my credit card number.  Why can’t I just log in to my B&N account?  Kindle reader wins this round.

1pm – Committee Meeting – “Creating a Collaborative Research Center”. I am on a campus committee here to look at ways to increase collaborative research (and the funding for that research).

2pm – Back on the reference desk, updating the Geology subject guideDistracted by Explored the neat search options on Mindat.org.  Finished adding some excellent resources.  Emailed faculty to inform them of the changes and to ask for additional suggestions.

3pm – Finally answered a real reference question just as my reference shift was ending.  Student was looking to see if we had any of the movies she had to watch for an assignment (most were checked out, but one was still available).

3:30pm – Head home.  I’m leaving early on Monday and Tuesday of this week to spend some time with my family.  This helps balance out all the times during the semester where I will stay late.

Why we need to ‘deselect’ items from our collections

Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, 1838-1906
Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, 1838-1906

Weeding a library collection is never a popular topic on college campuses.  Libraries are sometimes quite open about their weeding policies, and sometimes they just hope no one notices.

Faculty sometimes protest and libraries sometimes have to defend their decisions.

Just the other day, I came across a perfect example of why we need to weed our collections:  In the reference collection our library had a copy of a spiral bound users guide to Beilstein, the source of a wide variety of organic chemistry information.  From 1966.

First, the guide is to the print version of Beilstein, which doesn’t exist anymore (as far as I can tell).  Second, we don’t have access to the electronic version of Beilstein.

While this guide might be useful to historians of chemical information services one day, as an undergraduate institution with a constant need for more space in the library, we simply cannot justify hanging onto it.

Assessing Information Literacy Skills


Searching

Originally uploaded by mia!

This year, the librarians at my library worked together to assess the library instruction portion of our freshman writing course.

All freshman take this writing and critical thinking class, and faculty are required to bring their students in for one 1-hour session on library skills.  Most faculty fulfill this requirement.

Last summer, we spent some time revising the goals and objectives for this one 50 minute session.  Based on the ACRL information literacy standards, our goals are rather modest: it is difficult to learn very much in 50 minutes.  After revising our goals and objectives, we developed a brief test to assess this objectives.

We were able to test some of our incoming freshman during the first few weeks of their college career.  We also have the results of the test from students at the end of their first semester, and for other students at the end of their first year.

The results are in, and I have spent some time analyzing them.  After sharing the results with the librarians, we will meet again to decide if we need to revise our original goals and objectives.  To me, this is the most important part of the assessment process.  Good assessment requires you to go back and look at your original goals.  Have you met your goals?  If so, do they need to change?  If not, what can you do to acheive those goals.  Simply collecting data without re-examining the original goals is a waste of everyones time.

So have the students met our goals?  Well, mostly.

  • Most students continue to think that our OPAC contains journal articles
  • They can’t seem to tell the difference between a book review and an article, but at least the book reviews they find are on-topic, and more students can successfully find something at the end of the year than at the beginning
  • Students can easily interpret records in our OPAC, but aren’t as good at evaluating a results list, although this improves with time
  • Worryingly (since I’m the library webmaster), students can’t seem to find our resources by subject lists at the beginning of the year or at the end.