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Information Literacy in a Large 1 st Year Class: Can a “Quirky Assignment” Effectively Engage Students?. Presented at UBCO’s 10 th Annual Learning Conference, May 7-8, 2014. Elizabeth Rennie, Instruction & Outreach Librarian Susan Purdy, Lecturer Department of Biological Sciences.

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information literacy in a large 1 st year class can a quirky assignment effectively engage students

Information Literacy in a Large 1st Year Class: Can a “Quirky Assignment” Effectively Engage Students?

Presented at UBCO’s 10thAnnual Learning Conference, May 7-8, 2014

Elizabeth Rennie, Instruction & Outreach Librarian

Susan Purdy, Lecturer Department of Biological Sciences

what we used to do
What we used to do….
  • Biology 1210 is a second semester First Year Biology majors’ course, ~ 250 studentsin 12 lab sections.
  • In the past students were required to do a library assignment as part of the lecture component.
  • Students requested library assistance on a voluntary basis, at the Reference Desk.
21 st century education
21st Century Education

Relate abstract concepts in biology to real-world situations, and make biology content relevant

Integrate multiple forms of assessment to track student learning

Engage students as active participants

Introduce fewer concepts, but present them in greater detail

Ensure that courses are active, outcome orientated, inquiry driven and relevant

Stimulate the curiosity students have about learning for the natural world

salmon in the tree project
‘Salmon in the Tree’ Project
  • Based on the “There’s a Heifer in Your Tank” project developed by Dr. Frank Robinson at the University of Alberta, Agriculture Science program.
  • By posing ‘quirky questions’ teams of students went about answering them using videos.
  • Two years ago we introduced our version with the first quirky question being ‘Why is there a salmonin the tree’?
sitt project learning outcomes
SITT project learning outcomes:
  • Find, differentiate and correctly use academic information sources
  • Communicate biological concepts effectively – both in writing and verbally
  • Form contacts with other Biology faculty / learn about their research or else other biological research happening currently
  • Learn to work cooperatively in teams
  • Develop a sense of community in first year Biology students
the essential elements of team based learning michaelsen sweet 2008
The essential elements of team-based learning (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008)
  • Groups – must be properly formed and managed
  • Accountability – students must be accountable for the quality of their individual and group work
  • Feedback – must be frequent and timely
  • Assignment design – group assignments must promote both learning and team development
turning student groups into effective teams oakley et al 2004
Turning student groups into effective teams (Oakley et al. 2004)
  • Forming teams
    • Include students with diverse ability levels
    • Avoid isolating at-risk minority students
    • Minimum 3, maximum 5 (although TBL recommends 5 to 7)
    • Reform teams for new projects?
  • Establishing expectations
    • Team policy statement / team expectations agreement
  • Dealing with problem team members
    • Evaluation of team functioning – part-way through the project
    • Peer Ratings

“With a group, the whole is often equal to or less than the sum of its parts; with a team, the whole is always greater”


Why would a black bear and a squirrel make poor bed mates?

Why does dwarf mistletoe resemble a cannon?

How does a Vancouver Island marmot find a date these days?

Why are bluebirds blue?

Why does this flower smell like a rotting corpse?

How do Canadian monarchs find their way to Mexico?

Why do female hyenas have a penis?

Will adding iron to the ocean help the planet escape from heating up?

overview of the project
Overview of the project

Introduce the project, choose questions and teams

Library session

Team Bibliography


Teams develop videos (4-5 min in length) to answer their question. Must use accurate and complex scientific content but be entertaining


Prepare an individual article


the library session
The Library Session
  • Librarians teach twelve 3-hour lab sections in one week
  • Each session includes:
    • An overview of the Team Bibliography assignment
    • A group exercise evaluating resources, practicing the process they’ll need to apply in their assignment
    • Demonstration searches to find different resources
    • Getting set up in RefWorks
    • Approximately 2 hours of hands-on group research time, with librarian assistance as required
shared learning outcomes
Shared Learning Outcomes
  • Several of the SITT Learning Outcomes match those of the Library Instruction Program.
  • This in itself isn’t unique; the library attempts to conduct most library instruction sessions in a lab environment in order to give students direct active learning experiences.
  • BIOL 1210 is, however, one of the more successful library instruction collaborations.
why it works
Why it works:
  • 3-hour time period
  • Assignment timelines: Bibliographies are due the following week
  • The Bibliography is a TEAM assignment
transfering to other courses
Transfering to Other Courses
  • Nursing (and why that worked)
  • Arts (why it didn’t work, and how it might)
outcomes recommendations
Outcomes & Recommendations
  • The SITT assignment required making significant changes to the BIOL 1210 labs
  • Student feedback, however, indicates that most students found the assignment to be enjoyable and engaging – and that they found the library session to be useful.
peer evaluations
  • Students rated their peers in 5 categories (Van den Bogaard, 2007)
    • Job performance
    • Attitude and interaction with team members
    • Leadership and initiative
    • Team meetings and time management
    • Communication within the team and for the project

Excellent – 100

Good – 87

Satisfactory – 75

Ordinary – 63

Marginal – 50

Poor – 25

Nothing - 0

Only multiply up to 1.05

so did the sitt project lead to student engagement
So…..did the SITT project lead to student engagement?

“I did not enjoy this project!”

“Thank you! Very fun learning the topic this way!”

“It was an interesting way to develop knowledge on biology subjects.”

“Good way to learn in groups – seemed scary at first, but overall a good experience.”

how to adapt for your course from biology
How to Adapt for your Course?From Biology:
  • Provide students with real-world questions
  • Provide opportunities for group work, balanced by individual assignments
  • Consider creative assignment options (such as videos), accompanied by clear grading rubrics outlining assignment expectations
  • Be willing to consider experiential exercises that teach group work, critical thinking, verbal communication, creative problem-solving, etc. – even at the expense of (some) discipline-specific content.
how to adapt for your course from the library
How to Adapt for your Course?From the Library:
  • Collaborate with a librarian, well in advance
  • Consider how to make hands-on research time immediately relevant
  • Consider how to encourage students to stick around for hands-on research time: groups, partnered exercises, etc.
  • Think about how much time you can reasonably devote (and whether that’s enough for students to be able to meet your expectations)
video showcase winners 2014
Video Showcase winners 2014
  • How and why did the hummingbird cross the Gulf of Mexico?
  • How are leaf cutter ants good farmers?
  • Why have male fish living downstream from big cities switched their sex?
  • AAAS. 2009. Vision and change in undergraduate biology education – a call for action. Final Report of a National Conferences organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • Oakley B, Felder RM, Brent R, Elhajj I. 2004. Turning student groups into effective teams. J Student Centered Learning: 2 (1) 9-28
  • Van den Bogaard ME, Saunders-Smits GN. 2007. Peer and self evaluations as means to improve the assessment of project based learning. Proceedings from 37th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Milwaukee, WI
  • Michaelsen, LK & M Sweet. 2008. The essential elements of team based learning. New Direction for Teaching and Learning 116: 7-27
  • ACRL…


Elizabeth Rennie,

Susan Purdy,