Class activity: Anticipatory set for exploring search tools

Sometimes I get these ideas the day before I have to teach a class. They always seem like great ideas. Awesome ideas, and the fact that I’m trying to put it together last minute for a class that I’ve pretty much had canned for the last few years doesn’t seem to dawn on me until right before I teach the class and I’m like “This might not work after all. Why did I think this was going to work? I should just do what I’ve always done, they’re all going to look at me funny when I tell them to do this, I should of worn flats, I’m going to trip in these heel boots” and every other insecurity hits me like a ton of bricks.

This happened yesterday. I completely changed my approach to teaching database and keyword strategy. It was for an Intro to College class so all the students are new to college libraries and resources. It was an hour and half long class so I figured I had enough time to bumble through some of the awkwardness and find my footing. I did the same lesson again today for an ENG 101 that was only an hour long. In both cases, the class will be returning for a second session. My idea was to use this first session to focus on the mechanics of searching databases. I have always spent a few minutes at the beginning of the class explaining what a database is, how they work, how they can differ, and when there’s time I have them following along with doing a search in Google and then do another one in our discovery tool so they can see the difference. The idea is to always start with something they’re familiar with, then move on to something that’s new and unfamiliar. I decided to expand on that a bit this time by designing an anticipatory set that would allow students more hands-on time to explore several familiar tools like Google, Amazon and and our databases, using a question sheet to reflect on the process as they go.

I first start by explaining the very basics of what a database is and instead of just talking about it, I’m actually reaching outside of my comfort zone and drawing stuff on the white board. Then they do the anticipatory set. They have to search all different tools using the keyword “santuary cities” and then answer the questions: How many results are there? What type of information/sources do you get in the results? Does it provide lots of filters or just a few?

Then we discuss how the results differ and which one’s they felt more comfortable searching in. The key points that come out of the discussion are:

1) Google has lots of different kinds of information in their results, website, videos, news, .coms, .orgs, etc.

2) Amazon does give you books but you can’t read the books without paying for them. So Amazon isn’t so much a database of information as it is a database of records for stuff that has inforemation that you have to purchase first. This is where I can highlight how our library databases do have books, but they are books they can access and read for free.

3) is full of news. It differs from Google in that it’s primarily all news related material. This introduces the concept of a database that focuses on a specific discipline or source type.

4) Search Almost Everything (our discovery tool) is kind of like Google but the information provided in the results are more appropriate for college research. It also has records for stuff like Amazon but you can access the full text, unlike Amazon.

5) The religion and philosophy database is more like because it focuses on a specific discipline. There are also less filters offered in comparison to Search Almost Everything.

The rest of the lesson focuses on keyword strategy and develop a research question. I’m still not sure yet if I’m going to keep this as a standard lesson. This anticipatory set does take about fifteen minutes total once you include the discussion time afterwards, so it definitely works best when you have more than one session with the class and longer class period.


According to the blogging schedule I’m trying to keep to, I’m supposed to be writing about my reflections on teaching a college success course today. However, we’re currently having a snowpocoloypse up here and we’re shutting down the library early. So, I decided to share this funny skit of the Two Ronnies I saw on the ALA ThinkTank page this morning. I used to live in Scotland when I was little so I often watched The Two Ronnies with my parents. Of course, I never could understand what everyone was laughing about at that age but now, this library skit is definitly a favorite.

Sharing ideas when no one has time

One of the many aspects I love about working at a college belonging to a larger university system, is the wider community of librarians I get to work with that belong to that system. SUNY has 64 colleges and universitites, each one unique in it’s own way but there are also a lot of similarities and challenges that we have to face together. The SUNY Librarians Association provides a community where we can do that. I have participated and been a member of national library organizations, attended national conferences, but I don’t think any of those experiences can compete with the marvelous connections I’ve made through SUNYLA. I was secretary for the Executive Board for a few years which was quite honestly, a lot more fun than it should of been. It’s all about the people, I had such a blast. For the last few years I’ve been co-chair for the Working Group for Information Literacy (WGIL). We have many librarians who are passionate about information literacy working at SUNY insitutions. However, we are spread out all over the state so our meetings are usually held virtually. One of the biggest challenges in recent years has been the lack of “energy” and participation in the group. Like I said, we’re all passionate about information literacy but we’re also all really busy and finding time to contribute to working groups and committees is always hard. For a while, the other co-chair and I thought maybe we could get things moving with a blog. Contributors signed up and posted articles sharing ideas for library instruction, etc. But writing articles takes time, and it was hard to get volunteers to contribute (let’s face it…blogging is rather 2006) so last summer we all came up with another idea. Fifteen minute lightening talks. These are low-effort, jump on Zoom and listen to me talk about this cool idea I tried or challenge I’ve been having regarding information literacy. Our goal is to have one monthly and so far it’s going pretty well. If you’re interested in listening to some of the recordings you can find them on our blog:

Lesson idea: Logic of Science and anonymous posts


I’ve been a periodic reader of a blog called The Logic of Science.  The author of the blog has a mission statement or rather a list of three:

  1. Teach critical thinking.
  2. Explain how science works and why it is reliable.
  3. Use critical thinking to defend science against the numerous logically flawed attacks that are hurled at it.

Someone had shared a post from the blog shortly after the 2016 election and I can remember my first thought was “thank goodness, someone is finally explaining science to the rest of us.” However, I’ve always been a bit bothered by the fact that the blogger writes anonymously. There are so many useful articles, providing some great content and inspiration for information literacy instruction (ex. Does Splenda cause cancer? A lesson in how to critically read scientific papers) but I’ve hesitated to use any of it because there’s no verfiably information about the author.  So I started thinking, what if that’s the lesson.  Wouldn’t this be a great class discussion starter?  In their about page, the author indicates that they are posting anonymously because they’re concerned about being harrassed or trolled, which is a very legitimate concern. We’ve all seen it, there is very little restraint online these days when it comes to verbally attacking those with which we disagree with and in this blogger’s case, it appears as though their attackers are following them around the internet just seardching for an opportunity to unleash their venom.  But the question to pose to the class, I think, would be whether they should use or how should they use the information provided in the blog posts.  Should they quote the author? If so, how do they quote an anonymous blog?  The content they link out to in order to support their arguments are in many cases scholarly, academic sources.  But is that enough when we still don’t know who they are? Perhaps there should be some flexibility when it comes to anonymity especially if the blogger seems threatened.  After all, Oxford University recently announced the release of their new Journal of Controverisal Ideas that promises that very thing, to allow scholars to publish anonymously if they feel their article might threaten their position. Maybe there are arguments out there that we are afraid to have that we will only have if we don’t know who eachother are? Does this help scholarsip? Or weaken it?

Information Literacy Initiative: Designing new student learning competencies

We’ve spent the better part of the last three years revamping our information literacy program.  It was partly motivated by the change to the ACRL Framework but also by our own awareness that the current methods we were using to teach and assess infolit needed a little bit of refreshing.

We are challenged by many of the same issues other community colleges are.  We don’t have any credit bearing courses and any attempt to add any have never been successful.  As a result, we rely on the one-shot or if we’re lucky and the faculty member sees the benefit, the two-shot.

To get the initiative in motion, my collegues suggested we start meeting on a weekly basis to brainstorm ideas and ultimately, get a handle on this new Framework thing. Although we all agreed that the current ACRL Standards needed a serious overhaul, we weren’t exactly sure how the new Framework was going to make any of that better.

The other matter at hand was coming up with some kind of coordinated plan.  We had several pie-in-the-sky kind of conversations.  If we were in charge of the campus what would our information literacy program look like?  There were a lot of different ideas we wanted to try and most of them fit in to four broad categories that have become our strategic priorities:

Although Assessment is the third on the list, it was clear that it needed to be the first priority we worked on.  Our campus was already moving more towards the idea of focusing assessment on local standards so we decided to come up with our own for information literacy.  This was new territory for us since we always relied on the ACRL standards in the past. This is when we finally figured out how the Framework could work for us.

Although we went through several different drafts, we finalized a version last spring, just in time for our end of the year assessment. We decided to create a broad set of student learning competencies first which fell neatly into five different categories: Access, Inquiry, Search, Evaluation and Attribution.

Then, within each catagory we created specific student learning outcomes.


Our idea, or our hope, was that this format would actually allow some flexibility for faculty who could either utilize the student learning outcomes we had develop, or create a set of their own discipline specific outcomes within each category.  This was our solution to the “How do we integrate information literacy into the curriculum?” problem.

I did a brief presentation on this for ACRL last spring which you can view below.  I don’t start until fifteen minutes in but I highly recommend you watch the whole showcase.  There were some super spectacular ideas shared by the other presenters.

Using Padlet in a One-Shot Instruction

I’ve recently started using Padlet in my one-shots as a way for students to collaboratively brainstorm keyword combinations.  Since all the students have their own desktop or laptop to work from, they can all contribute to the Padlet and see what everyone else is adding at the same time.  I like using it as a tool.  The students are often a little apprehensive at first but once they double click on the Padlet and see how easy it is to add a note the activity continues to go quite well.

I’ve used a white board for this activity in the past but it was often hard to get students to speak-up with any suggestions.  I imagine this is a common issue in one-shots.  Students may be comfortable contributing to discussion in their own classroom, but once there in the library with me they’re in a new place with a new face for an instructor.  It can be hard to break through that first time meeting awkwardness.  I normally wouldn’t get more than one or two students to raise their hand and suggest something.  The Padlet seems to alleviate that somewhat. Those students who are anxious about speaking in front of everyone can add a note to Padlet anonymously.  As a result, I would get far more keyword suggestions than I would when using the whiteboard.