Alternate delivery series: What I did to put my library session online (quickly)

The term ‘alternate delivery’ has become common among Canadian (and American) universities that are shifting to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators in colleges and K-12 are scrambling and I feel for them. Online teaching isn’t an easy thing to do, and my colleagues out there are doing their best to learn the technology.

As a librarian, my world is a little bit different. Since I’m trying out new things myself, I decided to create a series on this website about what I’ve done to teach online (including creation of resources for asynchronous delivery), technology and edtech tools I use for instruction generally, my productivity strategy for working at home, etc. I don’t have his series all planned out, but I’ll post things as they come to me. And, what better way to start than with an example of how I spent a weekend transitioning a face-to-face library session to an online module.

For this example, I’m using a General Education session I teach every semester with a colleague. This is an English course, and students have to write a persuasive essay on how an aspect of society is changing or has changed the English language. Students are given a list of possible research questions to answer, but they do have the opportunity to develop their own as well. For my face-to-face session, the objectives would be to have students 1) create a mind mind for their research question and brainstorm search terms 2) find a handful of preliminary (or background) sources and 3) get started finding academic research. I give students a template for how to document their search, the goal being to develop good research organization skills early in their program.

Library Guide

Link to guide

I kept my library guide simple.I focused on designing content as if the course was asynchronous. Why not just do the whole session live over video conference? The advantage of online is the opportunity to re-watch content, and I wanted a guide students could return to. Students have enough on their plate right now.

The guide is divided into the following steps

  1. Developing your search strategy
  2. Finding sources
  3. Evaluating sources
  4. Citing sources

For steps one through three, I developed some screencasts illustrated what I wanted them to do. I’ve put links to the videos below.

These videos were done quickly, which is what instructors scrambling to switch to online delivery will be doing. I worked in education technology and instructional design prior to being a librarian, so I can tell you that the quality could be better. I remember spending many hours with instructors to develop slick PowerPoint, scripts, and animations for recorded lectures. We used to use green screens and special cameras. Not this time around…

That being said screen casting short videos is easy to do and can be effective. For most of these screencasts I used my Mac with Quicktime to record the audio and video. Quicktime is built into your Mac, and it records at high quality. There’s also a Windows alternative – the Xbox Game Bar app. There’s lots of way to do audio over PowerPoint, though in my experience the audio quality can be poor so I’d recommend against it.

For the second video, I wanted to recreate what I would have shown using a whiteboard. There are many digital whiteboard apps that allow you to draw out concepts easily. These apps work best with a device that has stylus support – such as the iPad, Samsung tablets, Microsoft’s Surface devices, etc. For this video I used an app called Explain Everything which has a huge toolset for teachers. You can record whatever you do on the screen. This allowed me to take a sample research question and create a mind map. Again, the goal is to get students brainstorming what they know about the topic. This app is pretty specialized. Microsoft Office (PowerPoint, Word, and OneNote) has really good pen support as well and it’s cross platform.

The search strategy videos covered how to find background resources using CREDO Reference, our library’s discovery system and Google Scholar. It’s pretty basic, but unlike an in-person session students can watch these again to reinforce the skills. I think the time spent by the instructor recording important skills or concepts is valuable, even for face-to-face courses. Videos should be five minutes or less ideally. I broke that rule here, but the goal was to get this done quickly.

Virtual library session

I held live library classes over video conference, but I didn’t use it to recreate the classroom experience exactly. With the help of my faculty colleague, we gave students pre-library session homework. Students were instructed to read the assignment, read through the library guide and watch the videos. The virtual library session provided an overview of how to use the guide and tackle the assignment, but the majority was allocated to discussion and answering questions.

Just like a guided reading, students were given direction on what to do before the virtual class. This is key. Both sections were excellent – with students using either their device microphones or chat to ask questions. My faculty colleague was also on the session, so it was very much a team effort. We all met over Google Meet (our campus solution) and it worked well with little lag.

What I learned

Though I have some experience with instructional design and developing online content for other instructors, it’s not what I do on a daily basis (apart from my library guides). Creating good multimedia content is an art. This experience was a good refresher and I (re)learned a few things.

  • Videos don’t have to be perfect. As you get better with the production value things will improve. Structuring the content clearly and keeping the videos relatively brief is key.
  • Don’t try and recreate the classroom. Online is different so I’d recommend leaning into this. The advantage is that students can rewatch, so use ‘class time’ for discussion.
  • Before a virtual library session, give some homework. Even if the task is ‘watch the videos’ that’s enough to get people’s minds working. The process is similar to giving students guiding questions for readings.

I hope this is somewhat useful for folks. If anyone wants more details on how I used apps the aforementioned apps, or if you want recommendations for other tools, give me a shout.