I keep saying I am going to put together this list and post it on my office wall to help in class preparation. This is a list of all of the active learning activities I have found so far, and I think having this list handy makes for much better library instruction sessions. So here goes:
1. Handouts and Worksheets
For those who have little experience with active learning and feel uncomfortable with jumping into active learning head first, handouts and worksheets can be a great step to expand one’s comfort zone. They can be made more active by having open-ended questions that students can fill out as brief essays.
2. Themed Worksheets or Self-Guided Tours
There have been some interesting posts on listservs and articles on academic libraries that are creating themed self-guided tours for their freshman orientation. These themes most often involve the analogy of being stranded or looking for treasure on a tropical island.
Lynn University bases their freshman orientation programming on the popular TV show Lost with group, subgroup, and individual activities. At the University of Puget Sound, the tour guides students through the library through clues, like a mystery. While most apply to orientation activities, this can also be applied to bibliographic instruction sessions.
3. Comprehension Checks
After each important topic is explained, a student should be called on to briefly restate or summarize what had just been explained. If this is explained at the beginning of the class, students will be more likely to pay attention or risk embarrassment if called on later.
4. Library Jeopardy
I have found this to be fairly popular among students. There is a template we use, which I cannot currently find on the Internet. The board looks exactly like the Jeopardy board and the numbers disappear once a student has answered it. I give out slips of paper with the number of points each student has earned. You can have students play in teams or individually (I prefer individually, my coworker prefers teams). I offer small coupons for $1 or $2 to the campus cafe for the student with the most points.
5. Scavenger Hunts
This involves giving students a list of things they need to find in the library. This remains controversial and should be done carefully. They are best used for acquainting students with the resources in the field. It should be kept relatively short, no more than 15 to 20 minutes. A brief discussion of what types of information can be found in which types of resources should precede the scavenger hunt and a handout included with the same information.
6. Web Evaluation
Provide students with a table and have them compare two Web sites on a similar topic. Have them comment on aspects such as authorship, date, credibility, etc. I often use martinlutherking.org and Nobel's page on Martin Luther King, Jr. I have a post from last week on other sites that can be used. Web evaluation is a great activity to have the students do themselves rather than just you teaching about it.
7. Database Comparison
This can be a fun and simple way to get students thinking about the resources. When there are multiple databases available for their general assignment requirements, divide the class into groups and assign each group one database. Or have each group compare two databases. They will learn what kinds of resources each database contains, whether it has full text in the database, or if it has any special search features. After each group discusses the databases internally, they then share their findings with the class. The students can create outlines on large sheets of paper, which can then be posted in the front of the room for discussion. The librarian should compile all outlines and distribute them by e-mail to all class members after the instruction session.
8. Five Minute Essays
Often writing is mentioned as an active-learning activity. At our library, we have found that a brief, informal reflection can be quite effective. We call them One Minute Essays because they should only take the student one or two minutes to write. In this essay, they are requested to mention one thing they learned and any questions they still have. This serves several purposes. The first is to have the students reflect on the session while it is still fresh in their mind. It also can provide the librarian with a general assessment of how the session went, depending on how seriously the students took it. Finally, it can identify questions that can be either individually answered or compiled and sent to the entire class by e-mail or a handout given to the professor to be distributed at the next class.
9. Library Perception Ice Breakers
An instruction session, particularly with freshmen, can be started with an ice breaker activity in which students discuss perceptions and stereotypes of libraries and librarians. This can be humorous as well as get the students to bring their subconscious perceptions out in the open. This can alleviate some of their initial library anxiety and they will see that we are not all cardigan-sporting, stuffy old women with buns and glasses. Hopefully they will see that even those of us who fit many of the librarian stereotypes (such as sensible shoes and dangly cat earrings) are not scary. This does not take much time and can loosen the atmosphere before getting down to business.
10. Simulations and Role Playing
I have seen one skit done effectively that involved a library fairy, but I'm still working on details for what this could mean.
11. Case Studies
I have heard of case studies done in library instruction, but again this is something I need to do more research on.
Each small group look at a part of the problem, then to share with the class. Putting all these pieces together is like completing a jigsaw puzzle. Students can look at different types of resources, figure out what type of information can be found in each resource, how they are used, currency of the information, and what the limitations of each are.
13. Paraphrasing Exercise
This can be very effective when teaching citation and using resources effectively. Give students a paragraph and have them create a cited paraphrase as if they were writing a paper on that topic.
14. Pre- and Post-Assignment Analysis
Give students an essay or quiz before and after the instruction session to monitor what they have learned. The questions can be the exact same, but don't necessarily have to be.
15. List of What Can/Can’t Be Done in a Database
This is very similar to comparing databases, but you do not need multiple databases. Give students a list of things they could possibly want to do and let them discover how the database works as they check of what can and cannot be done within that particular database.
16. Fish Diagram
Okay, I have to look this one up again. I remember reading an article that involved the librarian drawing a fish skeleton with labels on the bones. It seemed like an excellent idea, but I can't remember what it was now...
17. Search Strategy
After briefly explaining Boolean operators and the basics of creating a search strategy, have the class break into small groups. Give each group a complex topic in prose format. Give the class a few minutes to create their own search strategies. Then have the groups write their strategies on the board. Have the other groups evaluate and discuss each strategy.
18. Critical Evaluation of an Article
Give each small group of students one or two small articles. Have them critically evaluate the article(s) on quality and relevance. This could be combined with a comparison of different types of materials. They could compare a scholarly article to a magazine article on the same topic.
19. “Improve Your Search Results” Exercise
Set up a scenario where a search has been started in a relevant database, but it’s not a very efficient search. After having offered tips on improving results, set the students loose in small groups with the databases, and have them explain in writing a set number of ways you can improve the results of the search. After five to ten minutes, have the class discuss the search as a group.
20. Diagram the Research Process
After having gone over the research process with students, have them gather in small groups to quickly diagram the research process in a drawing. There is no one correct way to do this, it is the discussion involved that is of value. Again, after a short period of time, have the class discuss the diagram as a whole, and come up with a single drawing that the majority of the class agrees with.
21. Have the Class Answer Each Other’s Questions
This is difficult to plan, but try to take the opportunity to do this when it is offered. When a student asks a question during class, try to turn it around and see if anyone else in the class can answer the question.
22. Information Log
Have students keep track of all the times they need information for a certain period of time, and what resources they use to find that information. Students tend to think of “research” as just for classes, but this gets them thinking of information searching as part of their world every day. Examples include looking up the weather forecast, sports scores, movie times, phone numbers, etc.
23. Concept Maps
Give students a number of concepts and have them arrange it in a concept map in small groups. Students will see relationships differently, so the negotiations will be of great value.
24. Searching Behavior
Before instruction, have each student briefly write down what steps they take when doing research for a paper. Then have them compare to their neighbor or in small groups. This will get them starting to think about the many options that are involved.