Bringing the Library to Life: Live Librarian Instruction in a First-Year Online Course
With the goals to increase student connection to the online library, to develop academic research skills, and to foster student success in a first-year online course, a collaborative program between librarians and faculty was created and yielded positive results including student growth in information literacy skills, reduction in student anxiety in navigation and utilization of the online library, and high level of student academic success.
Just under a third of all college students leave the institution after the first-year (ACT, 2012; Barefoot, 2000, 2005; Kinzie, 2014, Kuh, 2008) and 47% of college students fail to matriculate at the original four-year institution, 56% dropping before the start of the second-year (Tinto, 1987, 1993). Meanwhile, online higher education continues to grow at a rapid rate; over 7.1 million students took at least one online course in the fall of 2013, an increase of 400,000 students from 2012 (Allen and Seaman 2014). Positive interactions with university faculty and staff are critical to student engagement, learning, and persistence. Information literacy is a crucial component to higher education, but first-year students are typically unaware of their own substandard academic research skills (Gustavson & Nall 2011). Offering a diversity of library interventions can help these students gain the skills they need to succeed (Latham & Gross 2013). Librarians and library services can play an important, lasting role in promoting student confidence, connectedness and academic success (Regalado 2003, Zhong & Alexander 2007).
APUS is a fully online institution both regionally and nationally accredited serving over 90% adult learners and over 50% military learners. College 100: Foundations of Online Learning students are those new to American Public University System. Students encounter lessons, assessments, and discussions that require information literacy skills; that is the ability to identify, search for and evaluate appropriate sources of information for college-level assignments. However, students frequently contact faculty, librarians, and technical staff with questions and sometimes declarations of frustration or anxiety about navigating the library indicating a need for basic library orientation and research skills training. Students' apparent lack of familiarity with the Online Library, undeveloped information literacy skills, and varying learning preferences may impede successful achievement of course objectives.
An initial pilot was developed in spring of 2013 with five sections, two taught by one faculty and three taught by another, to offer synchronous sessions with students hosted by an APUS Online Librarian during designated times within the eight weeks of the course. Though not integrated into specific assignments for the initial pilot, students participating in sessions received additional credit. From student feedback recorded through an open discussion forum with the instructor, it was determined that those students taking advantage of the Adobe Connect sessions stated they were more familiar with the library, that they were more confident in their navigation and research skills, and that they believed the information assisted them in related assignments. The two faculty of the small pilot concurred with student statements and recommended expansion of the initiative.
Stemming from the smaller project early in 2013, a pilot was developed offering synchronous office hours with APUS Online Librarians for 28 selected COLL100 classes with October semester starts. Five Librarians volunteered time to schedule regular sessions. The lead Librarian for the project, and co-coordinator of the initiative, developed a short five-stop video tour of the APUS Online Library focusing on orientation and navigation skills as well as areas deemed critical to first-year student success and development of basic information literacy skills such as databases, eBooks, journals and articles, and working with the deep web. A pre and post-session quiz was created to assess student attitudes and knowledge acquisition from the Live Library sessions. Again, results from the expanded pilot indicated student skill development, higher levels of confidence, and better rates of success in library and research associated assignments for those participating in the sessions.
The innovation was initiated again in April of 2014 expanding in sections to verify results. Thirty five sections, and nineteen faculty, of the April College 100 semester participated in the project. Between Week 2 and Week 8 there were 19 two hour Live Library sessions held live via Adobe Connect with Librarians providing a demonstration of the main features of the APUS Online Library. Sessions were offered on weekdays and weekends as well as day and evening times. These demonstrations included an overview of components necessary for student navigation and use of the Library for College 100 assignments as well as key elements necessary for success in future courses. Students were able to interact in real time with Librarians through audio or via text chat in the room.
The APUS Librarians from the previous 2013 pilot all volunteered once again to facilitate sessions and work with student. Those unable to attend live sessions made individual appointments with Librarians and/or utilized a Library Tour video and worked directly with the faculty for the section. Beyond a very few technical issues with connections there was overwhelming positive feedback from students and faculty. Students described how anxiety levels on research and the Library were drastically reduced after the sessions, how they learned how to use tools key to success in classes, and how they could now easily navigate with confidence and know where to go when they needed extra assistance. The faculty who attended commented how they learned something new by attending sessions!
In addition to tracking attendance at live sessions, survey and qualitative data provided by students, Librarians, and faculty were gathered from the initiative. Such data provided insight into themes, points of confusion, and engagement in the initiative and learning. Student attitudes, knowledge, and skills were surveyed with a pre and post session assessment. Themes were noted by Librarians during session and in follow-up with students. From within the classroom faculty monitored impressions. Instructors used an open forum to discuss the Library sessions and gather feedback asking students what they learned, how will they apply new knowledge and skills, and thoughts on further exploration. Assignments connected to the Library were analyzed to assess any increase in the submissions and quality of grades as compared to COLL100 classes not involved in the pilot.
Students integrated the learning from the Live Library sessions into assignments in the classroom both directly – as in quiz and reflection requirements for points in attending the session – and indirectly – as in increased knowledge and skills to accurately and more efficiently perform Library and research based assignments.
Overall student GPA, Community of Inquiry (CoI) scores, and End of Course Survey, were analyzed. Of those who participated in the October 2013 pilot sessions 93% of students achieved the course grade of "A". Additionally, just over 90% of participating students achieved the grade of "A" on relevant Library assignments. Over 90% of student feedback, both in the post-Live Library session survey and feedback in the open discussion forum, was positive, indicated a change in attitude (i.e. from anxious or disconnected to confident and engaged), and included comments illustrating student learning and skill development. Similar positive results were indicated with the April 2014 records. Qualitative data pulled from student feedback in communication to faculty as well in response to an open ended prompt on the post-session quiz yielded very positive and validating results. A small sample of student responses are provided:
“I just completed my live library session and it was very helpful. Since this is my first course it really showed me how to navigate through the library. My library host was super nice and there was only two people in the session so she used my topic in a few of the search engines to show me how to get results”.
“I had my library tutorial today, April 16 from 10:00-10:20 my time, 12:00-12:20 eastern.
I will say that I am glad this is required learning for this course. I didn't realize how helpful the library is and I will be sure to utilize it through this class and all my future classes!”
“I learned a lot of things today. I learned about the different ways to search for topic information. Not only books but journals and papers. I learned that I can save the information in a pdf for future reading. I learned where to find help in siting sources. I also learned that I can search frequently asked questions but I can also ask a librarian directly and that they are pretty speedy in a return response.
I'm happy I got into the tutorial early in the course!”
“ I attended the Live Library session on 10 May 2014 @ 10AM (Pacific Time). The APUS Librarian, Mary-Elizabeth Gano, was very helpful in answering all of my questions regarding the library. I stumbled across the COLL100 Course Guide before, but a great degree of clarity was achieved by attending the Live Library session. I kind of felt like I had previously assembled a bike without reading the instructions, only to read the instructions later... and discover that I could have saved myself a lot of time and frustration by reading them first. The information regarding the FAQs and the help that the library can personally afford to me was really reassuring (ask a librarian, tutor.com, LibChat, and the help tab). The assistance with how to properly search a website was of great value, as I have a bias toward taking everything on the Internet as gospel”.
“I just did the session at 1 and I must say it is very informative. I advise all my fellow students to check it out. Found some really helpful tools that I can use throughout my entire degree process”.
“I had my Library session on Tuesday. I thought it was informative, however, I had already figured out most of what was covered when I was looking up the research paper topic options. What I did find helpful was the information about the book search. I had not started looking at books a sources yet so when I did start after my session, it made the experience very easy”.
“Unfortunately due to my schedule I could not attend a live session, however; I watched the Youtube tutorials on the library tour. One thing I learned that I didnt know before was that on proquest when searching for your topic, click on the book reference, you can actually type in keywords and it will take you to specific chapters in the book that relate to what your looking for. Sounds much nicer then scrambling through the whole book to find one thing that your looking for. I also like that fact that there is a ask a librarian tab. I also learned about the "Deep Web" .You re just one question away from an answer. What a great service to offer the students”.
“I attended the live library session during the third week. I found the experience interesting and informative. I was at work and was still able to do the drop in. The librarians answered all my questions and dropped a few hints on me through chat. I was able to learn how to refine my searches to get the results I needed”.
“First and foremost I would like to say that Mrs. Susan Satory was amazing in every aspect of the word. This is my first online course ever and she broke it down to an easy and very understandable level. I am not very good with computers but she made me feel very confident and knowledgeable about what I was doing, and made me very comfortable about speaking how i felt and asking questions…. Secondly, The "summon" tool, as a novice researcher and new student when pulling information I always feel bombarded with a whole bunch of useless and "rabbit whole" information. With this tool it allows me to specify exactly what I'm looking for and only generate results on what I choose, which helps new users like myself to further focus on what I want to see”.
“I had not attended a Live Library session prior to creating my Annotated Bibliography. I just finished my session tonight. It was VERY informative, though, and it will definitely make creating my Resources page for my final paper easier. I also was shown ways to search the library that I wasn't aware of before. I think had I attended a session earlier, it would have made my search much simpler.”
Scope, Implications, and Discussion
Identifying gaps in students' information literacy skills and knowledge of the APUS Online Library resources allow librarians and College 100 team members to develop new multi-modal assets within the classroom and the library, and to modify current resources for on-demand instruction that better meets students' needs. Feedback gathered from live sessions is being used to transform frequently visited library assets such as the Ask a Librarian reference service, Course Guides and Tutorial Center resources into more engaging, effective, media-rich learning tools. A live chat within the Library is now being tested as one of the Library's new initiatives to personalize service and aid retention.
Directly related to all of the Sloan-C’s Five Pillars of Quality Online Education, the Live Library initiative demonstrates success in learning effectiveness, scale, access, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction. Learning Effectiveness: The design and delivery of the program including the assets for classroom integration, for Librarian support, and for live demonstration was done with effective practices of online instruction as well as a focus on pedagogy for first-year students including integration of the principles for andragogy to meet the needs of adult learners. Scale: Those involved in the program leveraged the current technologies for recorded, synchronous, and asynchronous interaction, communication, and instructional delivery. Access: Higher levels of engagement with faculty and Librarians created deeper connections with students in what can be a faceless and voiceless environment. Increased engagement and academic success, as pointed out in the literature, can increase persistence and retention. Faculty Satisfaction: The initial two faculty for the smaller pilot strongly recommended to the program coordinators and fellow faculty to expand the pilot. All faculty involved volunteered themselves and their sections for the pilots and participated in Basecamp, a project management site, to obtain information, ask questions, give feedback, and provide recommendations for current and future work with the initiative. Overwhelmingly faculty stated participation in the project was personally rewarding, how they themselves learned something new when attending a live session, and how the information for the students enhanced their ability to effectively deliver instruction. Student Satisfaction: Evident from the sample of qualitative responses, students became connected to not only their current professor but to a staff member, a dedicated, supportive, and knowledgeable Librarian. Students indicated regularly in feedback how they now understood things that had previously confused them, become more confident in abilities to work in the Library and perform research, and affirmed connection of new knowledge and skills to classroom application.
Live Library Office Hours provides new students in their first class at APUS an opportunity to establish a personal connection with a librarian and the Library. Additionally, with synchronous communication, and an interactive demonstration of crucial search skills, student confidence, competence and satisfaction with the library is has increased, along with improved performance on classroom research assignments. The positive impact of improved information literacy skills, and closer relationships with librarians, should linger in future courses as well.
This more engaging format will allow librarians to teach information literacy in a more proactive way, rather than passively awaiting student queries and hoping (often with no student feedback) that their responses are effective. In keeping with the focus of the Community of Inquiry framework, these live, interactive sessions will grant APUS librarians an unprecedented opportunity to establish social presence with new students, developing a rapport that will endure throughout students' academic careers.