Flexing your instructional muscles: using technology to extend your reach beyond the classroom

We’re in the midst of re-thinking our entire Information Literacy curriculum, and I’ve been waxing philosophical on the role technology will play into this new and uncharted land. The new Framework for Information Literacy has thrown the instructional library world into a tizzy. We are all grappling with everything from understanding the threshold concepts themselves to determining how to best teach them. We’ve done this all along of course with the previous Standards for Information Literacy, but there’s something about this new incarnation that seems to perplex and challenge at the same time.

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For me, the biggest revelation was the idea that we could no longer rely on the traditional 50 minute one-shot to cover all of these concepts in one fell swoop. But wait, you might say, we never did that before either! That may be true, but there was something comforting and decidedly familiar in that set of neatly laid out outcomes that one could follow almost like a recipe to make one feel as though it could be accomplished in one sitting and more importantly, the students would be able to learn it. I’m the first to admit that it was easy for me to fall into this pattern and I was so focused on making that one interaction perfect, that I didn’t really think much about what happened before or after it.

And perhaps it’s purely a placebo effect at play here, but the framework turned on a light bulb for me that had previously remained unlit. Of course you cannot cover everything there is to know about Information Literacy in one session! Readers might be tearing their hair out right now and yelling at the screen that this a very obvious observation. And perhaps it is, but it’s helped me to realize how important the role technology plays in all of this to help us think beyond the one shot.

There’s been a ton of discussion about the benefits of the flipped classroom before students even see you so that you can dispense with the more mundane elements and cover the good stuff in class. But what happens after that? What if you don’t have a chance to assess that class or ever talk to those students again? What I’m really talking about is the post instruction flip. With this model, you still retain the one-shot format (because it’s still very much part of our instructional reality), but the conceptual underpinnings of the framework can now be stretched out across the entire semester and the online content can help you maintain a presence and still deliver the needed information.

Challenges and Opportunities

Two major obstacles might present themselves in your minds at this point: the willingness of the faculty to let your virtual presence linger and a lack of resources. As I think I’ve mentioned in other posts, piloting is often the key to success. Work with a few faculty who you know will be willing to let you post or send additional learning objects after the session with their students is over and who will ensure that they take it seriously by making it an actual part of the assignment. Modular objects work well for this reason and can cover both more abstract ideas as well as more point and click type skills. Assessment will also be crucial here and if you can compare the results of students who had access to this online content to those who didn’t, that will help you scale up this model especially if the scores show a positive difference. A final component to overcoming this first issue is that of integration with the course. This is where you will have to decide what needs to go online and at what point, how it should be accessed, and all the surrounding logistics. This will require collaboration, ongoing discussion, and some tailoring of content depending on the assignment and the pace of the course. This whole idea is especially important if you don’t have a large staff on hand and you want to concentrate your efforts to those very important in-person interactions and let the virtual content help with the rest.

What if you don’t have an unlimited amount of money and staff time to create an amazing tutorial? There are free tools out there that don’t require too much of a learning curve-for example, Blendspace allows you to drag and drop content from other sources in the form of tiles that can be mixed and matched. In addition to the built in quiz option, there’s a feature that allows students to tell you if they understood the content or not and provides yet another opportunity for you to provide feedback and clarification.

Blubbr TV is a trivia-type tool that allows you to append questions to video clips. Although it’s meant to foster team-based competition, it’s an easy way to assess comprehension of basic concepts. So if a student had watched a video on Boolean operators, you wouldn’t need to include that as part of your assessment, because you would already know how he/she did and could address issues much more quickly and directly.

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I do want to make a side point here, so please bear with me. The idea is not so much that you are using these tools to help you assess student learning-there are many ways to do that which don’t require technology and many that do, but rather that you are using these resources to help you provide additional support for students as they’re going through the entire process not simply at an arbitrary point in time chosen by the faculty member because it works with the schedule. Too often we feel compelled to create an entire tutorial that covers everything and we get overwhelmed with the details and the potential cost either in staff time or software, but with this model you’re not trying to recreate the one-shot online, rather enrich and broaden it.

A final tip is to get to know your campus instructional technologist and/or designer. He/she can help point you in the right direction, whether it’s about a new tool you might not have seen before or simply a pedagogical approach to maximize the benefit of your online resources. More and more I find myself turning to this field for inspiration and ideas and am finding applications for instructional tools and activities I didn’t consider before simply by looking outside the library.

Conclusion

Now that I’ve thoroughly vexed you with my musings, it was all to say that technology is going to become even more important as we continue to explore the complexities of the framework and delve into its intricate layers. Using online tools will not always alleviate our time and staffing issues, but it should help us to continue working with students well beyond the time we see them and hopefully it will provide, perhaps ironically, greater individualized interaction at the point of need, and help us realize that the one-shot is not the end, but rather just the beginning.

*Images taken from Pixabay

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