Integrate Library Instruction in Your Online Courses

Integrate Library Instruction in Your Online Courses
Information literacy is critical to the success of a student, as many students fail due to not knowing how to find quality resources. While many instructors recognize this need, they normally incorporate it into their courses by asking a librarian to come in to do a library session or tour of the actual library. But as an undergraduate, I took these as days to mentally “check out,” and enjoy what I considered to be a break from the “real” learning. Even in my graduate studies, I never appreciated the benefits of what the library could offer me as a student (ironically, since I was studying to be a librarian), precisely because I viewed library instruction as something optional. A far better method is to integrate library instruction in the course itself. Fortunately, online classrooms make such integration a relatively easy task.

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Information literacy is critical to the success of a student, as many students fail due to not knowing how to find quality resources. While many instructors recognize this need, they normally incorporate it into their courses by asking a librarian to come in to do a library session or tour of the actual library. But as an undergraduate, I took these as days to mentally “check out,” and enjoy what I considered to be a break from the “real” learning. Even in my graduate studies, I never appreciated the benefits of what the library could offer me as a student (ironically, since I was studying to be a librarian), precisely because I viewed library instruction as something optional. A far better method is to integrate library instruction in the course itself. Fortunately, online classrooms make such integration a relatively easy task. First, any good learning management system (LMS) allows for the integration of online library tutorials into courses. Such tutorials allow for students to complete library instruction at their own pace and can be easily customized for courses by requiring students to conduct library searches for specific assignments or projects. This both teaches critical skills and also incentivizes students to complete lessons that are immediately applicable to their courses. If extra motivation is still required, instructors can assign points to the tutorials and make them required parts of their courses. Colleagues and I have done this in a pilot project within the entomology department at the University of Nebraska. The students were required to complete four online library modules: Getting Started with the Libraries, Creating Libraries Accounts, Conducting Research, and Avoiding Plagiarism. Each module included individual tutorials, with specific activities within the tutorials being related to their course, for a total of 15 tutorials. Completion of these modules was part of their overall course grade, and individual tutorials were required for completion of specific assignments, such as finding sources for their final research paper. During the entire course, the entomology librarian remained available to help students one-on-one and provide support when needed. The feedback from students has been highly positive, with many remarking that they wished they would have completed these tutorials earlier in their studies, and both the program director and entomology librarian were pleased with the improved ability of students to integrate the library’s resources and services into their academic work. Consequently, the modules have been included in Insect Biology, a first-year undergraduate course, for Spring 2018, and additional modules are being planned for higher-level courses. Second, a common feature of an LMS is the ability to add co-instructors or teaching assistants to an online course, so librarians themselves can integrated into courses. Librarians would welcome the opportunity to be made a co-instructor of an online course. Making a librarian a co-instructor provides not just the benefit of an additional professional to help with instruction, but also helps students view the librarian as an actual part of the course, not just an occasional visitor. This is critical if advanced information literacy skills, especially conducting research, are necessary for success in the course, as students are much more likely to seek out assistance from the librarian, leading to a much greater likelihood of success. Furthermore, this strengthens the relationship between instructor and librarian, which should lead to better instructional collaborations in the future. This should lead to better collaboration between the instructor and librarian to determine the extent to which the librarian would be involved in the course. For example, some instructors would be fully comfortable having librarians help develop and even teach instructional material, while others may prefer that the librarian only develop and assess library-related material. Either way, the fact that the librarian is now part of the course increases the likelihood that students make better use of library resources and services. Finally, even if an instructor prefers to minimize the amount of coursework dedicated to library instruction, embedding library resources (e.g., the catalog, databases, librarian contact information) or linking to them is all it takes for students to recognize that the library is a valuable source of assistance in a course. Although this minimal approach reduces the chances that students will take full advantage of the resources and services offered through their institution’s library, it still goes a long way to reducing the perception that the library is an optional part of an educational experience. Andrew J. Cano is the virtual learning librarian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.