Friday, September 21, 2012

Active Learning and Library Instruction

Active Learning and Library Instruction
by Michael Lorenzen

(This article was original published in Illinois Libraries, 83, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 19-24.)

From the beginning of academic library instruction in the United States, it was noted that perhaps lecturing was not the most effective way of educating students about the library. In 1886, Davis wrote about his frustrations in teaching students about the library who were not learning anything from his lectures. This phenomenon has been noticed by many other librarians as well. The assumption that library instruction should be lectured based probably has driven the opposition of many academic librarians to library instruction. After all, if lecturing to students about library use does not work, why do it? Active learning, also known as cooperative learning, is a model of instruction that many academic librarians have turned towards to better help students learn about the library in the classroom. 

What is active learning? 

Active learning is a method of educating students that allows them to participate in class. It takes them beyond the role of passive listener and note taker and allows the student to take some direction and initiative during the class. The role of the teacher is to lecturer less and instead direct the students in directions that will allow the students to "discover" the material as they work with other students to understand the curriculum. Active learning can encompass a variety of techniques that include small group discussion, role playing, hands-on projects, and teacher driven questioning. The goal is to bring students into the process of their own education. 

Some of the pioneers in the push for active learning in the last several decades are David Johnson, Roger Johnson, and Karl Smith. Although none of the three are librarians, all work in academia and have taught widely to faculty in higher education. Many academic librarians (including the author) have heard them speak and they are widely cited in library literature dealing with active learning. The three have argued for active learning because they feel lecturing is over relied on by faculty even though lecturing has several limitations. They wrote (1991) that students have trouble focusing on lecturing and that their attentions diminishes over the course of a class. They also postulated that lecturing promotes the acquisition of facts rather than the development of higher cognitive processes such as analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluation. Finally, they believed that students find lectures boring. 

Bonwell and Eison (1991) wrote that strategies that promote active learning have five common characteristics. Students are involved in class beyond listening. Less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more emphasis is placed developing the skills of the students. The students are involved in higher order thinking such as analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluation. The students are involved in activities like reading, discussion, and writing. Finally, greater emphasis is placed on the exploration of student values and attitudes. 

Active learning can also overcome the individualistic and competitive nature of traditional education. Wrote Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991), "When engaged in cooperative activities, individuals seek outcomes that are beneficial to themselves and to all other members of the group. Cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other's learning." (pp. 3). 

Another reason for using active learning by many is that non-traditional students in higher education (that is those that are older than 18-24) prefer it over lecturing. Slavin (1991) reported that traditional students have been lectured to their whole lives and expect it. However, older students have had the opportunity to work and have life experiences that have shown them that they can learn things on their own and can participate and interact with both other students and the teacher in the classroom. Cook, Kunkel, and Weaver (1995) found this to be true of non-traditional students in library instruction as well as they dealt with students at the different branch campuses of Kent State University. 

While many active techniques are useable by academic librarians, most of these librarians are probably already using active learning in their lessons without realizing it. Hands-on learning is an important component of many library instruction lessons. Passing reference works around a room and allowing students to look at them is a low-level active learning exercise. With a little work, adding perhaps an opportunity to discuss why the reference works are useful, coupled with a group assignment to look up some information, the activity can become a truly beneficial and exciting active learning exercise. Even allowing students to use computers and conduct searches during class is an active learning approach. While active learning looks like it can be difficult for librarians to accommodate, with some modification librarians can build on what they are already doing and make their teaching more effective. 

Historical overview of active learning 

The use of active learning in education is not a new idea. In fact, it was most certainly the first method of education used by mankind. The quickest and most efficient method of training the young in a hunter/gatherer society, particularly in one where survival is a struggle, is to allow the young to watch and then mimic the behavior of their elders. Lecturing is not practical. As the first human societies were of the hunter/gather variety, this appears to be how education originated in humanity. Lecturing developed much later after cities and formal institutions of education were established. 

The first real written account of active learning comes from ancient Greece and the teaching style of Socrates. The Socratic Method relies on students interacting with each other and the teacher. Socrates would introduce a problem and ask the students about it. The students would discuss in detail what they thought the answer was each other. Socrates would direct the conversation back to key points when it drifted to much from what he thought the answer was. In the end, using the points that the students had made, Socrates would reveal his answer to the students. Socrates did not lecture to the students. He worked with them to help the students discover the part of the curriculum on their own. 

In more recent centuries, other philosophers have advocated for active learning as well. Rousseau published Emile in 1762 and argued for learning through sensory experience in it. John Dewey believed that practical experience gives learners the raw material needed to cultivate abstract thinking skills and to eventually develop complex intellectual constructs on a subject. Jean Piaget believed that the abstract reasoning developed as a result of childhood active learning by exploration of the environment. Kolb (1984) wrote that concrete experience is a prerequisite to the acquisition of physical skills, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. 

Academic librarians early one noted the need for an alternative to the lecture as well. Robinson (1880) wanted students to become real scholars who could educate themselves and do research without the aid of professors or librarians. Personal inquiry, a trait which active learning develops, was what Robinson felt was most important for students to acquire from higher education. Davis (1886) was frustrated with classroom lectures. He noticed that students were not gaining knowledge from even multiple lectures on library skills. He responded by creating an entire course so he could present the material differently. 

Winsor (1880), and later Shores (1935) and Branscomb (1940), argued for the library-college concept. All three believed that lecturing to students in a large lecture hall was damaging to the education of students. Instead, they believed that the students should be taught in the library by both the professor and the librarian. Rather than lecturing to the students, the librarian-professor team would give the students problems and then require them to find the answers on their own in the stacks of the library. This clearly is a use of active learning by librarians that not only teaches library skills but also makes the library central to educating students on campus. 

A more recent influence on the acceptance of active learning not only in academic libraries but on college campuses as a whole was the national report of the National Institute of Education in 1984 titled Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential of American Higher Education. The study group who authored the report wanted to improve student involvement in their own education by creating strategies that require student participation to a greater degree than has been traditionally seen. Wrote the study group, "Faculty should make greater uses of active modes of teaching and require that students take greater responsibility for their learning." (pp. 27). 

Considerations for active learning in the library classroom 

Translating active learning into a library instruction setting is not an easy task. Most academic librarians have little first hand knowledge of the concept. Librarians, who usually have weak backgrounds in teaching methods, tend to model how they were taught which means lecturing. Further, the nature of library instruction being a one shot class taught by a librarian who is not the usual teacher, makes it difficult to use many of the recommendations for active learning which work best with semester long courses. 

Drueke (1992) noted four barriers that other teachers do not face in incorporating active learning. Librarians only see a group of students once typically. This means that the active learning methods used by the librarian have to be concluded during the single class. Students also are used to dealing with the faculty member who teaches the course they are in. This means dealing with students who may have learned that participation is not required or encouraged in the class. Librarians also have a great deal to teach to students in a very short time frame. Using active learning takes away time to cover material. Finally, librarians do not have total control over the class. In theory, academic librarians like other faculty have academic freedom in the classroom to teach as they please. However, working with another faculty member in a subordinate role means the librarian most structure their teaching to fit the needs and desires of the faculty member who requested library instruction for her course. 

Students also believe, usually correctly, that they will not be tested on what the librarian is teaching. Further, many students believe there is no need to cooperate with the librarian in active learning exercises because the librarian can not grade the student. Wrote Cook, Kunkel, and Weaver (1995), "Students are not accountable to librarians for what they learn in BI, and are only indirectly accountable to instructors. Most faculty do not expect students to describe how to use specific reference tools, expecting instead to see work which reflects their use." (pp. 23). 

Another obstacle to active learning in the library classroom is the reluctance of librarians to give up lecturing. Wrote Mabry (1995), "I found, however, that the instructor's first step in applying cooperative learning techniques involves rethinking his/her role in the classroom. It is not easy to give up lecture time in a 50 minute BI session. But one of the primary tenets of cooperative learning is that, if instructors are prepared to give up some control, students will learn more and retain that knowledge longer." (pp. 183). 

Mabry also wrote that authoritarian librarians would find it difficult to integrate active learning in the classroom. Active learning requires a different sort of librarian to work. Mabry (1995) wrote, " The most problematic step for the instructor is the first one: accepting a new role in the classroom that involves some loss of control. Highly authoritarian librarians will probably resist the free-flowing nature of this new method. But more egalitarian librarians, eager to try out new teaching models, will find a fruitful pathway in the principles of cooperative learning." (pp. 185). 

Using active learning in a one shot library lecture does require some modification of the active learning techniques. Drueke listed nine strategies to allow for active learning to work for librarians. These included: 
1. Talking informally with students as they arrived for class.
2. Expecting that students would participate and acting accordingly. 
3. Arranging the classroom to encourage participation including putting chairs in a cluster or circle. 
4. Using small group discussion, questioning, and writing to allow for non-threatening methods of student participation. 
5. Giving students time to give responses, do not rush them. 
6. Rewarding students for participating by praising them or paraphrasing what they say. 
7. Reducing anonymity by introducing yourself and asking the students for their names. Ask the class to relate previous library experiences as you do this. 
8. Drawing the students into discussions by showing the relevance of the library to their studies. 
9. Allowing students time to ask questions at the end of class.
Most of the approaches that Drueke listed are identical with minor modifications to points made by proponents of active learning. This shows with a little effort the one shot library lecture can be turned into an active learning experience.  

One innovative active learning teaching technique is called a jigsaw. Using the jigsaw, students work in groups studying an issue. Each of these groups works on a small portion of the overall issue. The jigsaw is put together when the groups report their findings to each other. This allows the entire issue to be covered in a single class but also allows for each student to be involved in learning the material. Ragains (1995) wrote about his use of the jigsaw in library instruction at Montana State University at Bozeman. He successful used the jigsaw to teach students library skills in marketing research, mechanical engineering, historical methods, and earth science. 

One criticism of active learning is that it does not work with large lecture hall style classes. Librarians sometimes teach in large lecture halls. Gedeon (1997) wrote of his experiences attempting to use active learning in a library instruction session in a large lecture hall. He did so by having the students brainstorm and then fill out search strategies in pairs. Do to the large number of students, groups and an inclusive class discussion. Gedeon concluded that the lesson worked well but the dynamics of the large number of students kept it from being as successful as it would have been with a smaller group of students. Although Gedeon's study does not indicate that using active learning with large groups is to be avoided in library instruction, it does indicate that it is a challenge and that lecturing may be more appropriate in this setting. 

Active learning appears to be a great method of instruction for librarians. However, it probably should not be considered the only way to teach. As the case of large groups above indicates, sometime lecturing can be a valuable tool in teaching library skills. Wrote Drueke (1992), "Our interest centers not on adding to the evidence on the value of active learning, but rather on exploring various active learning techniques and incorporating them effectively into library instruction. The lecture format may indeed be appropriate for many university-level library instruction classes. Research and practice indicates, however, that students may benefit for a wider repertoire of teaching techniques that include active learning opportunities." (pp. 82, 83). 
Active learning requires a lot of work and a clear objective for it to work. Using active learning for the sake of active learning may backfire. Wrote Allen (1995), "One caution can not be overstated: incorporating active learning techniques must be purposeful to carry out specific and important objectives, and must require students to use the higher order skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Anything less and your students will consider your classes to be busy work - gimmicky and worthless." (pp. 99). 

Active learning and library instruction for special groups 

Academic librarians are often called upon to teach library instruction for a variety of courses from different disciplines. For every department on campus, a librarian is assigned to select materials for the library collection. The librarian works with faculty to make these decisions and to let the faculty know that she is available to teach their students how to use the materials that are in the library. The smaller the academic library, the larger the range of each individual librarians potential courses to teach library instruction for. Different subjects lend themselves to be taught in different ways even with active learning. For example, already written about previously was Ragains (1995) who successful used the jigsaw method of active learning to teach students library skills in marketing research, mechanical engineering, historical methods, and earth science. While the library literature is sparse, some librarians have written about how to use active learning in particular disciplines in regards to library instruction. 

The World Wide Web has proved to be challenging for academic librarians to teach about. The many misconceptions that the students have about what the Web really is can be difficult to lecture about. Active learning can work well in showing these students the limitations of the Web and font of erroneous information therein contained. Simply ask the students to get on the Web in groups, look for certain types of information, and report back to the class what they found. These types of discussions prove much more useful in teaching about the Web than lecturing about it. Kohut and Sternberg (1995) used a similar strategy to teach students about mass communications using the Web. They asked the students to use the Web to find information on an emerging technology. 

The health sciences appear to be a field where a lot of active learning is being used. Not surprisingly, this has impacted library instruction to classes in the health sciences. Librarians teaching classes in this area are following along and incorporating active learning components to their lessons. Francis and Kelly (1997) detailed over a dozen health science libraries in the United States that were using active learning to teach library skills. Although none of the lessons taught by these libraries was detailed extensively, the descriptions of the instructional programs indicates that health science librarians may be the leaders on active learning in academic libraries. 

Often times, academic librarians are given the opportunity to teach freshman seminars either as the regular teacher or as a guest lecturer. These types of courses can give the librarian, particularly if she is the teacher, an opportunity to try new teaching methods. Dabbour (1997) was given this opportunity at California State University at San Bernardino. For the library portion of the class, she used small group self-guided exercises focusing on the library online system. As a prelude, she had the students discuss in class the importance of information literacy. The evaluations that the students gave the class were much higher than evaluations from prior classes where active learning had not been used. 

In the science fields, collaboration and reliance on research literature is important for the scientific enterprise. For this reason, active learning can work well in teaching library skills. Sara Penhale was a Science Librarian and Assistant Professor of Biology at Earlham College when she wrote an article on this topic. Using her unusual dual faculty position, she was able to introduce library instruction in introductory chemistry courses. Penhale had the students work in small groups to explore chemistry journal articles. She wrote (1997), "The merits of cooperative learning and of introducing students to the chemical literature argue for the development of assignments that include both. Chemistry students become more engaged, they learn more effectively, and they emulate the activities of the professionals in the discipline." (pp. 83). 


Active learning is a method of educating students that allows them to participate in class. It takes them beyond the role of passive listener and note taker and allows the student to take some direction and initiative during the class. Active learning can encompass a variety of techniques that include small group discussion, role playing, hands-on projects, and teacher driven questioning. The goal is to bring students into the process of their own education. Active learning is not a new idea. It has been used by humanity for a long time and several philosophers and educators (like Socrates and Dewey) have used or advocated the use of active learning. 

Some academic librarians were recognizing the limits of lecturing back in the 1880s when they taught library instruction sessions. One early attempt at active learning by these and librarians early in the 20th Century was the library-college concept. Using active learning can pose problems for academic librarians. Usually the librarian has only a single class with students who are not accountable to the librarian and have prior expectations of the class formed from working with the class instructor. Still, with a little work, many librarians are having success with active learning. 

Selected References 

Allen, E. E. (1995). Active learning and teaching: Improving post-secondary library instruction. Reference Librarian, no. 51/52. 

Bonwell, C. C. and Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. Washington, DC: George Washington University. 

Branscomb, H. (1940). Teaching with books: A study of college libraries. Chicago: American Library Association and Association of American Colleges. 

Cook, K. N., Kunkel, L. R., and Weaver, S. M. (1995). Cooperative learning in bibliographic instruction. Research strategies, 13 (Winter), pp. 17-25. 

Dabbour, K. S. (1997). Applying active learning methods to the design of library instruction for a freshman seminar. College & research libraries, 58 (July), pp. 299-308. 

Davis, R. C. (1886). Teaching bibliography in colleges. Library journal, 11 (September), pp. 289-94. 
Drueke, J. (1992). Active learning in the university library instruction classroom. Research Strategies, 10 (Spring), pp. 77-83. 

Francis, B. W. and Kelly, J. A. (1997). Active learning: Its role in health sciences libraries. Medical reference services quarterly, 16 (Spring), pp. 25-37. 

Gedeon, R. (1997). Enhancing a large lecture with active learning. Research strategies, 15(4), pp. 301- 309.

Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Smith, K. (1991). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Books. 

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experiences as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 

Lorenzen, M. (1995). Remember the gin and tonic! Using alcohol to teach Boolean searching. Library instruction roundtable news, 17(4), pp. 10. 

Mabry, C. E. (1995). Using cooperative learning principles in BI. Research strategies, 13 (Summer), pp. 182-185. 

National Institute of Education. (1984). Involvement in learning: Realizing the potential of American higher education. Washington, DC: US Department of Education. 

Penhale, S. J. (1997). Cooperative learning using chemical literature. Science & technology libraries, 16 (3/4), pp. 69-87. 

Ragains, P. (1995). Four variations on Drueke's active learning paradigm. Research strategies, 13 (Winter), pp. 40-50. 

Robinson, O. H. (1880). College libraries as aids to instruction: Rochester University Library -- Administration and use. In Circulars of information of the Bureau of Education; No. 1. Washington, D. C.: United States Government Printing Office, pp. 15-27. 

Shores, L. (1935). The liberal arts college, a possibility in 1964? School and society, 41 (26 January), pp. 110-14. 

Shrigley, R. (1981). Reader education. New library world, 82 (March), pp. 42, 43. 

Winsor, J. (1880). College libraries as aids to instruction: The college library. In Circulars of information of the Bureau of Education; No. 1. Washington, D. C.: United States Government Printing Office, pp. 7-14. 

Woodruff, E. H. (1886). University libraries and seminary methods of instruction. Library journal, 11 (September), 219-24. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Higher Education in 2022

Predicting the future can be a risky endeavor. In a very short time, conditions can change which make the “prophet” look foolish. Indeed, the ability to accurately predict the future can almost seem to be driven by chance. Mark Twain is reported to have said, “Prophecy: Two bull's eyes out of a possible million.” Despite this, with some environmental scanning (and a dose of humility) it is sometimes possible to make good predictions on what the future may be like.

This paper will make an informed attempt to predict what higher education may be like in the year 2022. What changes may occur? Predictions include international students, technology, public opinion, tuition and access, and the changing role of the campus library.

International Students

As the market for undergraduate enrollment has become increasingly competitive, so too has the market for international students. Universities have put a greater emphasis on the recruitment international students at both the undergraduate and graduate level and this will increase in the next decade. Private industry has continued to demand that higher education prepare a workforce that can function as global citizens. International students are able to help universities in their efforts to provide domestic students with the skills necessary to be competitive in an increasingly global economy.

Universities have recognized the value that international students add to campus not only in terms of providing a diverse learning environment but also in terms of financial revenue. In 2005, it was estimated that international students contributed over $13 billion to the US economy. Almost $9 billion of those funds went to tuition and fees. (NAFSA1, 2006). When looking at the financial contribution these students bring to an institution, the advantages of a strong international student presence on a campus increases. This will continue to make them an important source of revenue in the year 2022.

Although there will be a desire to increase the numbers of international students most campuses will not be successful. Already in 2006 there is concern over the decreasing numbers of international students that are enrolling US institutions of higher education. This concern will increase in the next ten years. The United States has seen a steady decline in international student enrollment numbers since 2002. Although this was initially blamed on the events of September 11, 2001 and the perceived unwelcoming atmosphere that the nation presented to international students, there is more to blame for this decrease.

For too long, the US higher education industry has rested on its reputation when recruiting international students. The higher education industry took the market for granted and was unprepared for competition. From the turn of the 21st century, these students have turned to Australia and the United Kingdom in increasing numbers. This is due, in part, to those country’s coordinated national efforts at recruitment, (something the US has failed to do) and, in part, to a perception that access to the US is increasingly difficult and unpredictable. (Johnson, 2006) As stories of arbitrary visa refusals increase, students are choosing to turn elsewhere and the US will no longer be a desirable destination in the minds of most students.

Enrollment has also dropped as fewer students choose to enroll in their home countries. Decreasing student populations at home have resulted in increased access to their own higher educational system and this trend will continue. Students who in the late 1990s and early 2000s would be denied entrance to the highly competitive local universities are now able to win spots at home and do not need to turn to institutions overseas. Countries that traditionally have sent the US large numbers of international students will continue to strengthen their own system of higher education and fewer students will see a US degree as something of value. When the US government continues to put restrictions on research opportunities for international students (Johnson, 2006) and when the US economy fails to grow at the same rate as their own country, students will realize that there is no economic benefit to studying in the US and will choose to remain home. By 2022, the impact of these trends will be felt throughout all levels of higher education.


In 2006, technology is seen as the savior of higher education. As public funding for higher education decreases and the demands of non-traditional students for alternative access to educational opportunities increases, higher educational institutions of all classifications are looking at technology and technological innovations as the prescription to cure their ills. By 2022 this hope will remain, however, some important lessons will have been learned. Innovations in instruction, increased efficiency, expansion of distance learning opportunities, reduction of support staff and faculty are all hoped for advantages that technological innovations are predicted to bring to the industry by 2022 (Altbach, 408). Some of these will occur but not necessarily as they are envisioned today.

Universities will continue to innovate and the best faculty will use technology to increase student participation and learning. Classroom instruction will become more interactive and high tech because students will demand it. The traditional age student in 2022 will have grown up with his or her own cell phone from the time he or she was in elementary school. These students, with their multi-tasking lifestyle, will not be able to sit in a lecture hall and take notes for an hour.

A blending style of teaching that will allow in-person interaction with a faculty along with off-sight participation will develop. More and more students will alternate between distance learning and the traditional method. The millennial generation will be more comfortable learning from their apartment or room on campus than going to a large lecture hall. This type of participation will allow institutions to combine on campus students with distance learning students in the same classroom. This blending of students into one campus will only be successful for institutions that recognize that the need for student services does not go away when students are not physically on campus and when they effectively use technology to allow off-site students access to campus life (Kendall). By 2022, those successful institutions will see an increase in enrollment and will become models for schools that want to change to meet the demands of the new age. They will use innovations to encourage student creativity and productivity.

By 2022, institutions that are unable to afford the expense required by advances in technology will struggle to maintain their enrollment. They will be unable to meet the demands of their student body and will look for cost cutting measures in other areas to fund their technology costs.

Public Opinion

By 2022, a change of public opinion towards the role of higher education will be on the horizon. Throughout the next decade, there will continue to be a decrease in state funding for higher education. Direct funding to public institutions will decrease to a minimal level (Hovey, 1999). Legislatures will view higher education as a low priority and insist that tuition revenues be used to fund its costs. This opinion will be supported by the public as universities as the importance of the value that the higher education industry serves to society is lost to the public.

By 2022, the largest source of public funding at institutions will be in the form of need based loans and grants to students. The larger, research based universities will see a continuation of research grants from the government but their availability to other institutions will be limited. As this trend in funding continues, state and federal government will increase their demands on institutions for increased reporting requirements, access to student records and for input to governance issues. These demands will not be accompanied by sources of funding. The burden that these factors place on institutions will become heavy enough that there will be a reaction by the industry to move towards changing public opinion. Higher education has enormous public relations machines on their campuses. By 2022, these departments, that were previously put to use to attract students, will increasingly be used to turn public opinion. There will be a concerted effort by the industry to reflect the societal value of higher education. The importance of higher education to the community will become the message.

Tuition and Access

Closely related to public opinion is the issue of rising tuition costs. As noted in the previous section, state governments are less willing to fund higher education. As costs for institutions of higher education continue to rise (health care, labor. etc.), this has created a shortfall in cash. The response by most institutions has been to raise tuition well above inflation rates year after year. This is steadily making a college education more and more unaffordable to those in the lower and middle economic class. As in 2006, in 2022 this will remain true as a higher education becomes increasingly unavailable to large portions of society.

Heywood (2006) reported that parents are more concerned with paying for college costs than they are with retirement. He noted that parents often say, “Too bad about retirement savings; my kids are going to college” (p. 10). In 2022, this will still be a concern for many parents. However, many others will have given up on the idea of college for their kids because even by sacrificing their own retirement they will be unable to save the sums necessary to pay for a college education. These parents will focus on retirement and inform their children they are on their own for paying college costs.

In 2006, many students are paying for college costs by using credit cards. McGlynn (2006) noted that 24% of college students charge tuition on their cards. She also noted that another 71% are charging books and food. This is resulting in huge credit cards debts for students. In 2022, burned by high default rates by college students and recent college graduates, credit cards will be more selective in issuing accounts and students will be less able to turn to them to pay for rising college costs.

Fitzgerald (2004) noted that of 900,000 college-qualified high school graduates from low and moderate income families in 2002, over 500,000 were denied access to higher education by either being prevented from enrolling due to lack of proof of ability to pay or they simply did not attempt to enroll. He wrote, “Such a large group of college-qualified high school graduates denied access today portends substantial losses over the rest of the decade as the number of high school graduates rises to historic levels…This staggering toll suggests that one of the core values we hold as a nation – equal educational opportunity – now stands in stark contrast to reality of college access for low-and-moderate-income students in America today” (p. 14, 15).

In 2022, this trend will continue. Institutions of higher education will make deliberate and strong efforts to provide low income students (particularly those from minority backgrounds) with scholarships in an attempt to keep diversity alive on campus. However, the majority of students will not qualify for significant amounts of aid and a large number will not enroll. Increasing, fewer and fewer students from low and moderate income homes will attend college. This will lead many to conclude that higher education access is a privilege based on income rather than merit which will probably lead to a backlash against higher education in the United States of America.

Changing Role of the Campus Library

In 2022, the role of the library will be greatly changed on campus. With the reality of online access to scholarly material, coupled with the ever increasing costs of higher education, many institutions will make the decision to reduce the role of the library on campus. The beginnings of the trend can be seen in 2006 as academic libraries in the United States have seen their budgets and staffs trimmed in cost-cutting moves. This will result in libraries being used as book storage warehouses and student study spaces with fewer professional librarian supported activities such as reference and instructional services. The fewer number of librarians who remain will be more involved with working with providing access to online resources and support staff management.

The changes in access to scholarly resources are visible in 2006. Google Books is a project of Google which is scanning millions of books and journals and making them available for free to the public. Many publishers of scholarly resources are opening up their collections and relying on advertising to support their businesses. This trend will accelerate and in 2022 many institutions will question the wisdom of supporting a costly library on campus when much of the material is available for free or minimal cost online. The library buildings will remain but the role of the library staff in these buildings will be both reduced and changed.

One example of this is the Federal Government Document Depository Program. Currently, most large academic libraries participate in this program and receive hundred of thousands of print and microfiche material from the Federal government for free. However, as noted in Shuler (2005), the Government Printing Office is seeking to contain costs by shifting from print to electronic access to government documents. By 2022, this shift will have been completed. All government documents which are not classified will be online and there will be no need for library participation in the program except as keepers of pre-digitization era government documents.

Another example of the growing free electronic access to scholarly materials is the open source journal movement. One response to restrictive and expensive traditional journal publishers is for some scholars to create peer-reviewed journals which are available freely online. Ehling (2004) described the development of open source journals at Cornell University and Penn State University which were added by their respective library systems. The author noted, “Presses and libraries can leverage one another’s strengths” (p. 7).

Despite the optimism of the article, problems have become evident in the open source journal movement. Even online journals have expenses and the open source journal publishers have had to charge steep reviewing (redactory) fees to submitters. Further, faculty publishing in these journals have had to deal with bias from senior members of their departments who expect the junior faculty to publish in established journals for tenure or promotion. However, by 2022 these problems will be resolved and the primary expression of peer-reviewed scholarship will be available for free online and this will reduce the role of the library.

Bailey-Hainer and Forsman (2005) wrote about declining state support for higher education and how this will translate for libraries. They predict grim results. They theorize that as revenue falls, institutions of higher education will find new ways to charge for public services. The library is a public service which is hard to charge for and is also expensive. Hence, it is likely to wither.

Tennant (2000) wrote, “The game has changed. We face an array of possibilities and challenges that will leave no library untouched. We are, whether we want to or not, about to become much more than we are now - or much less” (p. 55). In 2022, the role of the library and librarian will be reduced but not eliminated. However, as a consequence, quality information will be more accessible than ever and all will benefit.


What does the future hold for higher education in the United States of America in 2022? It is difficult to know for sure but this article hopefully provides a few good predictions. It is unlikely that everything here will occur but even the misses may still point to potential areas of concern or hope.


Bailey-Hainer, B. & Forsman, R.B. (2005). Redefining the future of academic libraries. Journal of academic librarianship, 31(6), 503-05.

Ehling, T. (2004). The development of an open source publishing system at Cornell and Penn State universities. ARL, n. 237.

Fitzgerald, B.K. (2004). Missed opportunities: Has college opportunity fallen victim to policy drift? Policy drift, 36(4), 10-19.

Gumport, P.J, & Chun, M. (2005). Technology and higher education. (pp. 393-424). In P. G. Altbach, R. O. Berdahl, & P. J. Gumport (Eds.), (2005). American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social. political, and economic challenges. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Heywood, J.C. (2006). Parents worry more about pying for college tham retirmet, survey shows. Diverse issues in higher education, 22(25), 10.

Kendall, J. R. (2005). Implementing the web of student services. (pp. 55-68). In K. Kruger’s (Ed.) Technology in student affairs: Supporting student learning and services. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, Inc.

Johnson, M. (2006, July 28). Toward a new foreign student strategy. Chronicle of higher education, 52(47), B16.

McGlynn, A.P. (2006). College on credit has kids dropping out. Education digest, 71(8), 57-60.

NAFSA. (2005, November 14). The Economic benefits of international education to the United States of America: A statistical Analysis, 2004-2005. Retrieved August 1, 2006 from act_statements_2005.

Shuler, J. (2005). The political and economic future of federal depository libraries. Journal of academic librarianship, 31(4), 377-82.

Tennant, R. (2000). Determining our digital future. American libraries, 31(1), 55.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Budgeting in Higher Education

For this reflection, I am going to concentrate on two chapters from a 2001 ASHE Reader on finance in higher education. This will include Chapter 35 (Schmidtlein, 2001) and Chapter 36 (Brinkman and Morgan, 2001). I found both of these chapters to be insightful readings.

Schmidtlein (2001) had the most insightful of the two chapters by often stating the obvious in very well constructed sentences. His chapter examined the issue of why it is so hard to actually link budgets in higher education to planning. One of the reasons that Schmidtlein noted was that it is difficult to predict the future of higher education in the first place. Since predictions are hard, making a budget to fit the future may prove to be futile.

Schmidtlein (2001) made a reference to the Oracle at Delphi as an example of how people have tried to explore the future for planning purposes. Although he does not develop this idea, I think it is an excellent example. The many women who served as the Pythia at the Oracle showed cleverness in predicting the future. It appears they really did not know either so they couched their prophecies in ways that could be later validated regardless of what happened. In 560 BC, Croesus of Lydia asked the Pythia if he should invade Persia. He was told, "After crossing the Halys, Croesus will destroy a great empire." He thought this meant he would win. Instead, he got beat and in the process destroyed his own empire. The Oracle had it right no matter what. As an oracle of higher education, I could make predictions such as, "Funding in the state will present many surprises for higher education this year" or "Seek the path of diversity in your institution and many rewards may be reaped." However, these statements would not actually help in planning a budget. Although I have exaggerated the oracle example here, I think it does illustrate how predicting the future can be tough and that Schmidtlein was right in his view that this is a reason why budgets do not always align with planning.

Another reason that Schmidtlein (2001) wrote was a problem for connecting planning to the budget was time. Higher education politics can be fierce. When planning is done, the politics continues. Those who lose in the planning stage tend to keep fighting looking for ways to reverse decisions and get more money despite what the original plan was. There is such a huge gap between when planning is done and when funds are dispersed that there are lots of opportunities to hijack the process and get funds reallocated in ways that did not fit the planning process.

Yet another problem in connecting budgets to planning is organizational attitudes toward budgets. Schmidtlein (2001) wrote, “Organizational units nearly always view planning as a means to enlarge their budgets, while central staff frequently seek reallocations and reductions” (p. 419). This belief is very evident in higher education. Departments always see the planning and budgeting process as a way to get more funds. The idea that funds may be shifted away to other areas of the institution is not received well. Almost every department on a campus has a list of projects they want funded in the future. No matter what the planning goals are, these departments recast their wish lists to appear to fit the new planning goals.

When departments on a campus do not get increases to fund wish list projects, they often get angry. Athletics is a frequent target of their anger. Many in academia are not supporters of athletics. Some are actively hostile towards the whole athletic endeavor. When these individuals see athletics getting more money, they imagine that this was at the expense of their departmental wish list. They the angrily complain that academics are not a priority on campus as they point their finger at the athletic department. It does not matter how badly athletics might have needed the money. The point to the department not getting more money is that they did not get more money. Athletics easily becomes a scapegoat and point of complaint for those frustrated with the budget process.

Schmidtlein (2001) also wrote, “Even in the best of times, organizations tend to view their budget base as a given and seek to confine discussions to requests for increases. Cutting budgets usually is a politically difficult task” (p. 420). I have certainly seen this is relation to the library acquisitions budget. Funds for purchases of books and periodicals are given to the library with a certain amount allocated to support every college on campus. The formula was set up decades ago and it no longer reflects changes in programs. Hence, some areas get more money than they needed and others do not get enough. Not surprisingly, those colleges which are overfunded in relation to others have fought tooth and nail to keep their allocation as is. Each college views their library acquisition fund as a given base that can only grow. To them, reductions in the amount are not acceptable under any circumstance.

I think this ties in well with Brinkman and Morgan (2001). The two wrote a very technical chapter that looked at many of the nuances of the budgeting process. In particular, they wrote about performance budgeting and responsibility center budgeting. I will admit that my eyes rolled into my head as I read this forcing me to have to reread passages several times. I believe this is important but it is also hard to get too excited about it. I know people who are excited about this stuff and I appreciate it. As a leader in higher education I plan on having people like this around me so I can rely on them for help with the importance of budget mechanics. Any library dean who does not follow the budget process closely is not going to do well…

One key point that Brinkman and Morgan (2001) wrote about was the trust factor of higher education. The authors referred to this as a trust market. They wrote, “higher education has been drawing down on what was once a large reservoir of trust” (p. 428). In essence, buyers are starting to doubt that higher education is worth the cost. Those losing trust include different levels of government, parents, and students. Reasons for this may include steadily rising tuition, seemingly politically motivated faculty at odds with most of the population, ineffective faculty and lack of proof for learning, etc. The constituents of higher education are skeptical of escalating costs.

Yet, Schmidtlein’s (2001) points about institutions believing their budget should only go up is relevant here. Central Michigan University is a good example. The institution lost millions of dollars in state funding over the last five years. Administrators on campus have kept track of this and call small increases from the states as a “restoration” rather than the increase that it is. Simply put, they feel entitled to whatever was the highest level of state funding in the past with growth to this expected each year. Higher education is not alone in this view in Michigan. The state prison system is complaining about coming cuts to their budget and the closing of a few prisons. However, the governor believes paroling non-violent offenders and elderly inmates can be done safely and save the state money. This makes sense to me but as it reduces the prison system budget it of course is opposed by the prison administrators and their allies in the state legislator. Yet the trust factor is in play here. The public no longer believes that giving more money to higher education or to prisons is necessarily in the states best interest. The trust factor for both is down.

Brinkman and Morgan (2001) also briefly touch upon the library in a resource center based budget system. Libraries do not quite fit the model. They wrote, “Additionally, in most RCB systems, the central administration of an institution oversees a taxing or subvention system where some activities such as libraries, judged to be valued but outside of proper market forces, are subsidized” (p. 429).

Works Cited

Brinkman, P. T., & Morgan, A. W. (2001). Changing fiscal strategies for planning. In J. Yeager, G. M. Nelson, E. A. Potter, J. C. Weidman, & T. G. Zullo (Eds.), ASHE reader on finance in higher education (pp. 425-436). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Schmidtlein, F. A. (2001). Why linking budgets to plans has proven difficult in higher education. In J. Yeager, G. M. Nelson, E. A. Potter, J. C. Weidman, & T. G. Zullo (Eds.), ASHE reader on finance in higher education (pp. 415-424). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Why is Higher Education Hard to Pay for?

At the Google Scholarship and Libraries Conference in March 2006, Bruce James, CEO of the U. S. Government Printing Office, noted the steadily rising costs of higher education. He asked then why if we have one digital library why every campus needed a library at all? He contends that the growing cost issue in higher education will be dealt with and the closing of some libraries is going to happen as a result. I was at this conference in Ann Arbor and he got quite the reaction from the heavily librarian audience.

As I read for this course, the issues of who pays for higher education and why tuition keeps rising were in my mind. And I kept thinking about what Bruce James had said last year. He actually predicted that at the current rate of tuition inflation that a year of college would cost more than a house in 2050. It seems that no matter what anyone does, colleges and universities demand more money. And just as clearly, the state and federal governments do not want to pay and these costs keep getting passed onto the students and their families.

Heywood (2006) reported that parents are more concerned with paying for college costs than they are with retirement. He noted that parents often say, “Too bad about retirement savings; my kids are going to college” (p. 10). This is a big concern for many parents. However, many others have given up on the idea of college for their kids because even by sacrificing their own retirement they will be unable to save the sums necessary to pay for a college education. These parents focus on retirement and inform their children they are on their own for paying college costs.

Many students are paying for college costs by using credit cards. McGlynn (2006) noted that 24% of college students charge tuition on their cards. She also noted that another 71% are charging books and food. This is resulting in huge credit cards debts for students. Can this trend continue? Burned by high default rates by college students and recent college graduates, will credit cards will be more selective in issuing accounts and students will be less able to turn to them to pay for rising college costs?

Johnstone (2006) wrote about the complexity of higher education in the United States. One of the points he noted was that in the USA higher education access was directly connected to social class. The richer a person was, the more likely a person was to have access to higher education. In addition, having a college credential was a necessity for entry to the middle and upper classes. The poor and middle class are at a disadvantage in getting access to higher education. However, Johnstone also noted that taxpayers have grown more conservative recently and are less willing to support poor students.

I understand why the public has problems with funding an ever expensive higher education system. Porter (2002) reported that a bachelor’s degree added on average a million dollars in income to a person’s income. Why should the average middle class taxpayer give money to institutions of higher education which then goes to ultimately enrich students who will make lots of money? Why shouldn’t students fund their own eventual higher paychecks? However, I also think the public realizes that higher education access is not always fair. Some families can not afford to send children to college and this hurts these individuals unfairly. The public wants higher education to be affordable but does not necessarily want to keep throwing money at the endeavor.

This lack of access for some is happening. Fitzgerald (2004) noted that of 900,000 college-qualified high school graduates from low and moderate income families in 2002, over 500,000 were denied access to higher education by either being prevented from enrolling due to lack of proof of ability to pay or they simply did not attempt to enroll. He wrote, “Such a large group of college-qualified high school graduates denied access today portends substantial losses over the rest of the decade as the number of high school graduates rises to historic levels…This staggering toll suggests that one of the core values we hold as a nation – equal educational opportunity – now stands in stark contrast to reality of college access for low-and-moderate-income students in America today” (p. 14, 15).

Johnstone (2006) also wrote about the difficulty of determining how efficient institutions of higher education were in educating students. Bowen wrote a great deal about this as well. So why do students pay 30K a year to attend Harvard? Do the students learn more than the students who pay 5K a year to attend Central Michigan University? How exactly do we measure how efficient institutions of higher education are at teaching students?

Former US Secretary of Education Spellings introduced a plan to begin a process that may someday result in institutions of higher education having to demonstrate what their students learn. In other words, these schools will have to prove that their cost (from tuition or government aid) is worth it. Not surprisingly, the majority of academics are objecting to this. There really is no desire from the schools to actually be held accountable for student learning. This is being noted by both the public and by politicians. It may lead to more attempts at assessing student learning in the future.

The article by Gladieux and King (2005) discussed a variety of points which tie into a lot of the issues I have been writing about. They correctly noted that the American Constitution provides no role for the federal government in education. This means that states regulate and provide some funding for higher education for public institutions. Despite this, higher education impacts so many people that the federal government still takes an interest in even provides some funding.

Gladieux and King (2005) wrote that the federal government funds higher education through student aid and research and development. The feds give money to students directly via Pell grants and guaranteed student loans. They also fund research by giving money to schools to do studies which benefit many areas such as health and the military. In some cases, this type of support is rather substantial. The federal government also funds higher education by giving money for things like the ROTC.


Fitzgerald, B.K. (2004). Missed opportunities: Has college opportunity fallen victim to policy drift? Change, 36(4), 10-19.

Gladieux, L. E., King, J. E., & Corrigan, M. E. (2005). The federal government and higher education. In P. G. Altbach, R. O. Berdahl, & P. J. Gumport (Eds.), American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political and economic challenges (2nd ed., pp. 163-197). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Heywood, J.C. (2006). Parents worry more about paying for college than retirement, survey shows. Diverse issues in higher education, 22(25), 10.

D. Bruce Johnstone, “Higher Education Accessibility and financial Viability: the Role of Student Loans,” in Tres, Jaoquim and Francisco Lopez Segrera, Eds., Higher Education in the World 2006: The Financing of Universities. Barcelona: Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 84-101.

McGlynn, A.P. (2006). College on credit has kids dropping out. Education digest, 71(8), 57-60.

Porter, K. (2002). The value of a college degree. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Critical Comparative Essay in Method of Inquiry

(I am posting this reflection on a research article as a sample for students in my class. If this is useful or odd to others who may find it, so be it. Not like this blog gets a lot of traffic...)

This paper will provide a critical analysis of “The Land of Confusion? High School Students and Their Use of the World Wide Web for Research” by Michael Lorenzen which was published in Research Strategies 18 (2001), 151-163. As I am the author of the article being analyzed, I will use the first person to avoid awkwardness in writing about research.


In the Spring Semester of 2000, I took a doctoral level course (EAD 955B) on qualitative research methods at Michigan State University. As a requirement for the course, I conducted a study of local high school students to determine how they were using the Web for research. I received a 4.0 on the paper (and in the course as a whole) and after some rewriting I submitted it to the journal Research Strategies. The referees sent it back to me once for revision but it was published in 2001. I was very pleased with this result as Research Strategies was the leading journal for library instruction and information literacy research at that time.

Have I Described My Methodology and Theory Base?

Beginning a review of my study, it is evident that I was not clear about what exactly I was doing. I note that the study was the result of me having interviewed students. However, at no point did I describe that this is a case study. As such, I make no attempt to explain why a case study method was selected and why it is appropriate.

However, I did attempt to justify why I used a qualitative study. One of the peer reviewers voted to reject the paper as my sample size was too small and did not use any  quantitative methods. The editor realized that the reviewer did not understand qualitative research and she asked me to add a paragraph explaining and justifying this approach. I wrote, “The methodology used for the study was qualitative. It differs from most research in the library science field, which tends to use a quantitative model. Many researchers have trouble accepting qualitative data as valid” (p. 156). I then detailed why this approach was valid and I think this helped to frame the study a bit for readers who are not used to qualitative research.

I believe the study is well grounded in a theory. I used Perry’s Scheme of Student Development to justify my methodology and to explain what I was expecting to find in the study. I liked the idea of dualism and multiplicity as rationales for student information seeking behavior. I believe I adequately explained Perry’s theory and referenced it properly throughout the entire article.

Did I Articulate a Set of Research Questions?

Actually, this study had only one research question. It was looking to see how high school students used the Web for research. This is clearly stated early and often in the study. That being noted, it probably would have been useful for me to have broken this one question down into some smaller research goals. I could have added several additional research questions to this which may have allowed me to probe the overarching question a little better. However, the question being examined is well stated, open ended, and clearly answerable with the method selected for the research.

Did I Identify a Research Context and Explain How Access Would be Attained?

I did not do a good job explaining this at all. I believe that the research was indeed doable and that the context selected was appropriate. However, I did not explain this. I did make it clear that the study was conducted at a high school but I make no attempt to justify why this is the best setting for the research. There are good reasons for using a high school to study high school students but I was not clear enough about this.

Further, I do not describe how I received permission to do this study at the high school. I knew the teacher who allowed me to interview her students and that is how I gained access. I also did not describe that the teacher had brought her class to the Michigan State University Library during the term and this may have influenced the results some. Conversely, I did an adequate job explaining how I gained consent from subjects and/or their parents.

Did I Describe Procedures for Selecting Participants?

I completely fail to mention at all how the participants were selected. I did not explain how the subjects were selected and invited. I do reference how many subjects participated but I do not indicate why I used the number I did and how much time was spent with them. I do note that some of the subjects had difficulty in answering some questions and gave brief responses but I do not really report how much the participants were involved. If I was to rewrite this study, this entire area would be described much better!

Did I Identify a Data Collection Method and Justify it?

This is another area that I did both right and wrong. I clearly indicated that I interviewed students. I provided the number of interviews conducted and provided a list of questions. These questions also relevant to the project and I think it would obvious to most readers that they would help to answer the research question. However, I make no real attempt to justify using interviews or any of the questions.

Did I Describe Data Analysis Procedures Used?

Incredibly, I did not do this! I looked over my findings section where I discovered that I just rattled off what I found with no explanation of how I got there. I am a little sheepish about this now. As such, there is no description of what I did with non-matching interviews that went against my findings. There is no way to determine if the data analysis method made sense as I did not list the data analysis method.

How Could I have Improved?

Looking back at this paper, I see many ways I could have improved it. To being with, I would have added a rationale for why I used a case study. I would have listed one or two more research questions to study as well beyond the one I pursued. I would have explained why I choose a high school as the research setting and I would have listed how I gained access. I would have explained how I selected the students who participated as subjects. I also would have noted my data analysis method.

This paper was my first attempt at qualitative research. I was very fortunate to have had it published. Had this been submitted to an education journal instead of a library journal, it probably would have been rejected. My methodology section is only three paragraphs long. However, I am happy with my use of theory to ground the research and I think my findings have held up well over the last five years. I am happy to see people citing this paper in their own research.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Behind the Digital Curtain

Could digital humanities to undergraduates boost information literacy? Steve Kolowich explores this in an article at Inside Higher Education.

From the article:

The buzz surrounding the digital humanities has largely emphasized its implications for professional scholarship. But here at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities on Thursday, a panel of digital humanists said that weaving digital humanities research into undergraduate education could help boost information literacy among college students.

“I think it’s a little disgraceful how little our students are forced to learn about the tool they and their friends use every day,” said Christopher Blackwell, professor of classics at Furman University.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Critical Thinking and the Web Lesson Plan Analysis

(I am posting this as en example of a reflective analysis paper for teaching as an example for students in my course. If others find it helpful or weird, so be it. Not like this blog gets tons of traffic.)

On October 25th, 2006 I taught a class for EAD 680 at Central Michigan University. The topic of the session was critical thinking. Although I was not feeling well, I believe the class was successful and that students learned. Looking back at the class, I believe I did exhibit one of the five Pratt teaching perspectives. Further, I think I have an understanding of what I did well and some of the areas I might be able to improve upon in the future.

The Lesson Plan

I divided the lesson into three distinct parts. This included an introductory lecture based on the 19th century Cardiff Giant, class discussion based on two articles, and a web evaluation exercise I called “Hoax or Just Strange? A Web Evaluation Exercise.” The entire lesson was supposed to last an hour but it wound up going for an hour and fifteen minutes. I believe I know the reason for this and it is one of the points I will be addressing when I look at weaknesses in the lesson plan.

I began with the Cardiff Giant story. This was a straight lecture for about five minutes which related a story from 19th century America that helps to emphasize the importance of critical thinking. I usually start each section of my LIB 197 class off with this story before I even hand out the syllabus. My delivery was off a bit and I had to backtrack some but I think I was successful in relating the story and then connecting it back to the topic of critical thinking.

The second part of the lesson had the class discussing two articles from the assigned readings. This included “Teaching for critical thinking” by Diane Halpern and "Writing and thinking" by John Bean. I created a list of questions in advance to ask about each article. The students were slow to respond and I may have spoken to soon in response. However, as people started talking, I had less need to facilitate as the students became engaged in the topic. In fact, I needed to cut off the conversation so that there would be time to complete the entire lesson.

I had a small class (8 students) and I passed each a website address to examine and evaluate. Each website was accompanied by a set of four questions.

These were:

1. What is this site about? For what purpose was it created?

2. What evidence do you see that would indicate this is a valid site for information?

3. What evidence do you see that would indicate that this might not be a good site for finding valid information?

4. In your opinion, is this a hoax site? If not, would it be a good site to use for information even if you think the site is strange or out of the mainstream?

Each student got a different site. Sites used included:

Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus - (

Texas Independence Movement - (

Southern Lake Michigan - Where You Will Meet The Whales and Dolphins! (

Voluntary Human Extinction Movement - (

A Concise Grammar of Feorran -(

The First Human Male Pregnancy - (

Shards O'Glass - (

Dominion of British West Florida - (

Before I passed out the exercise, I went over with the class what to look for when evaluating a site. I used Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages from Cornell ( as a guide. The students offered suggestion and I wrote these on the board as well.

The students had mixed success. They correctly identified the whale watching, shards of glass, male pregnancy, and tree octopus sites as being hoaxes. They correctly identified the Texas independence and the human extinction movement as real. They mistakenly labeled West Florida independence site a hoax. They also believed the Feorran site was real.

After the results were shared, I again (briefly) went over criteria for web evaluation and how the points could be used in looking at the sites. The students agreed that they were helpful when looking at these sites and that even the real sites would not be good sources for unbiased information. For example, the Texas independence site would be good for getting information on Texas separatists but it would not be a good source for Texas history due to political bias.

As a side note, I wrote up the web evaluation exercise and posted it on my information literacy blog last week. I did change the circumstances of the class a little though. Over the weekend, a major news website (Ars Technica) included the post in a story about information literacy posting. I have attached both the blog post and the article to the end of this paper.

Pratt Teaching Perspective

Looking at the Pratt teaching perspectives, I can see my teaching in this session to be reflective of several perspectives including transmission, apprenticeship, and developmental. For example, the Cardiff Giant lecture I started with is clearly a transmission approach. However, I think the dominant teaching perspective was a developmental one. Both the open discussion about the two articles and the web evaluation exercise were primarily developmental in tone.

There are several advantages to a developmental approach. The goal of this approach is to help students develop more complex cognitive structures for understanding content. If questions and exercises are structured well, students can move from simple thinking on a topic to more in-depth critical thinking skills on the subject. Also, the questions and exercises can also help the students relate the content to their prior learning if the lesson can bridge the content to prior student knowledge.

There are some disadvantages to this approach. For one, well crafted lessons incorporating a developmental perspective take time. It takes longer to present the session this way in contrast to transmission approach based on lecture. Less content can be covered in the same amount of time. This was very clear to me. The open discussion and the web evaluation exercise took much longer to get through than I thought it would. This was my biggest surprise of the session.

In addition, some students resist the developmental approach as they have grown used to or just prefer another perspective such as transmission. If a student likes lectures, he may be angry that a teacher is using discussion or group exercises to teach. If the teach is the expert, why is he note telling me what he knows? This can cause a problem for a teacher using a developmental model.


I brought several assumptions into this session. To begin, this is a class composed of graduate students. I assumed there would be big differences between them and the undergraduates I normally teach. At one level, this was true. The students were more motivated to contribute to a discussion. In addition, I assumed the students would perform better at the web evaluation exercise. This was true as well.

However, one student failed to identify her site as a hoax. This was directly related to technology I believe. I am used to students who can operate a mouse and find and navigate web pages. This student was older and she had difficulty with this task. As she never really had a good chance to evaluate the site in question, she just guessed. Clearly, my assumptions about the abilities of the students in regards to technology were wrong for one student in this session.

As mentioned previously, I was surprised by the amount of time my session took. I had believed that an hour would have been sufficient. This assumption was incorrect. Both the discussion and web evaluation exercise portions of the lesson expanded beyond what I intended.


Overall, I think this was a successful teaching experience. I believe I lead the discussion and the web evaluation exercise well and the students gained a better understanding of critical thinking and one way which the skill could be taught in an active learning format. However, as I have noted, there are some areas I can improve.

Things I think went well:

1. I believe the brief Cardiff Giant lecture peaked the interest of the students as was an appropriate lead into a class that would actually have little lecture. This allowed me to engage students with a differing teaching perspective than I used later.

2. The discussion questions I asked were appropriate for the readings and lead to some good conversation on critical thinking.

3. I was good at allowing students to speak what they thought about the articles and the web sites. However, I also used good judgment in moving the conversation forward when discussion was taking up too much time one a single point.

4. The web evaluation exercise was very hands on and appropriate for the topic of critical thinking. Students were engaged with it and I believe many will remember this exercise later when they themselves are thinking about how to teach about the web or critical thinking.

Things I would change:

1. The two articles I picked for discussion may not have been the best for teaching about critical thinking. In particular, “Teaching for critical thinking” by Diane Halpern was not well received by me or the students. I would use a different article next time.

2. I would ask fewer questions in the discussion of the articles to leave more time for the web evaluation exercise.

3. If possible, I would team students up to evaluate web sites. This would reduce the chances that a student would not have the technical skills to find and navigate a web site. With a small class, this was difficult. Perhaps when I noticed the student in difficulty I should have stayed with the student and helped with the page navigation?

Final Conclusion

Despite being ill, I enjoyed this experience. One thing I have learned about myself in my time in academia is that I enjoy getting up and teaching. I have had to work to get beyond just lecturing (which is my preference) to get to a more active learning approach. I think as time has gone by, I have definitely developed a more developmental perspective on my teaching even though I still like to go back to the lecture transmission perspective. I think this class session has shown my growth in this area.