Friday, June 27, 2014

Booknote: Active Learning Techniques for Librarians: Practical Examples

(Crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian)

Andrew Walsh and Padma Inala, Active Learning Techniques for Librarians: Practical Examples. Oxford, UK: Chandos, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-84334-592-3.

I finished reading this, and I was not impressed. The core of the book is the list of activities for active learning. Let's start by looking at what the book claims to do:

"It is a practical resource to be dipped in and out when needed and aims to appeal to a wide readership within the profession, particularly where teaching is a key part of the role. This includes graduate trainees and also students of librarianship and/or information students" (3).

The book is organized into three chapters:

  • One: Outline of theory and practice of active learning. This is a basic overview for people who do not know what active learning is or folks who need a refresher. 
  • Two: The practical activities are here. The activities vary from low to high tech and from practical to not so practical. The activities under the section "mobile phones and other gadgets" may fall under not so practical. Just because more students carry cellphones, it does not follow they can do whatever active learning activity you think you can do with the latest "cool" mobile gizmo. Now one nice element of this chapter is that each activity lists potential pitfalls; it is a rarity in LIS literature to admit something may not end as planned. 
  • Three: Sample lesson plans, including a couple of templates for lesson plans. New folks may find this useful. 
There are some good practical things, including one or two items I jotted down to try out. There is also a good number of activities I have seen before, so experienced practitioners may not find much new here. Additionally, the book has a few activities reliant on clickers or other technology that may or not be available in all libraries. However, for beginner librarians and librarians with minimal to no teaching experience who are suddenly told they have to teach, this may be a useful book. I don't see this book as one every librarian needs to have. If you instruction unit has a small reference/consult shelf of books about teaching, I can see adding it for the new folks. It is mostly a book for beginners.

In addition, instructions for some of the activities were pretty minimal; at times, I had questions about how exactly to implement something. I also wished the author had added more examples of how to use something or in what type of lesson something would be applicable. That would have made this book much more practical.

Again, as with other LIS books, we see authors running the risk of appearing less than relevant when citing Web 2.0 in learning contexts. That is because of how fast it can change, how often companies go out of style or out of business, and how things can quickly go out of date. Examples from the book:
  • Bebo and MySpace as social networking examples are pretty much a joke at this point. Bebo now is some kind of app company, and MySpace is pretty much, to be honest, dead in the water. 
  • iGoogle is gone by now. It was taken down in 2013. 
  • Jaiku was bought out by Google and then promptly shut down by Google. 
I am not saying don't use Web 2.0 online tools and resources. My philosophy on that is to experiment, find what works for you, and dump what does not. But when it comes to this topic, you are often better off asking around, talking to practitioners in the field who are likely more up to date than checking an LIS book. 

In the end, it is a book that I would recommend for beginners with some reservations. Seasoned instruction librarians have probably seen much of this, so they are better off seeking for new ideas elsewhere.

It was an OK book, so I am giving it 2 out of 5 stars.

# # #

A quote from the book I wanted to remember:

"A lot of library instruction can be very tasked, but when we are teaching we should not only be interested in gaining an end result, we need to focus on the experience the learner will have. If this journey is one where interactivity and stimulation takes place, in an environment that encourages thinking, doing, discussing and reflecting then there is more likelihood that the information will be retained and there will be some sense of understanding of the process, and therefore the learner will be enabled to independently replicate what has been learnt" (11).

Our job is to empower our students to use that knowledge, help nurture it, so they can be self-reliant, active lifelong learners.

No comments: