Replacing the Traditional Library “One-shot” Session with a Series of Online Videos: What Do Students Prefer?

Image of a computer playing a series of five videos.

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My One-Shot Library Instruction Sessions were Information Overload

Have you ever done a one-shot instruction session, and thought afterwards, “Whew, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of information I presented and I’m a librarian. I wonder how the students feel?” Those were my thoughts exactly when I did in-person one-shot sessions for the senior capstone courses in Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Mechanical Engineering (ME) in January 2020.

In these courses, students work in teams to design and prototype a solution to a real-world design problem. The first step in their design process is to research their topic and existing solutions, which requires complex literature searching. Traditionally, the engineering undergraduate curriculum has had little interaction with the Library. So for most students, this instruction session is the first time they’ve interacted with the Library since their freshman year (or perhaps at all). It’s definitely the first time they’ve heard of an engineering librarian. Because of this, during a traditional 45-60 minute one-shot session, I have to cover everything from basic access topics (use the Library’s online resources off campus!) to complicated engineering-specific topics (here’s how you access ISO standards). Additionally, even though these are capstone courses, they can be large – the ME senior design course is often over 150 students. This doesn’t allow for much interaction with the students because they’re sitting in a large lecture hall. 

My Solution: A Series of Videos

Even prior to the pandemic, I knew I wanted to change my instructional approach for these courses. I came away from these one-shot sessions feeling like I had just blasted the students with a fire hose of Library resources. During these sessions, students fell on either end of the attention spectrum: they fell asleep or were wide-eyed while furiously scribbling notes. I knew my approach was pedagogically problematic. So, with departmental faculty support, I took a completely different direction. 

In this blog post, for simplicity, I’m going to be writing about my work with the BME senior capstone courses but I took the same approach for the ME senior capstone courses. Library research is especially daunting for the BME students because they need to utilize not only engineering resources but also health sciences and business resources. 

I decided to create a series of five videos that covered the same concepts as my in-person one-shot session. During Summer 2020, I created five short videos on these topics: 

  1. Introduction to U-M Library
  2. Background Information
  3. Articles & Conference Proceedings
  4. Patents & Standards
  5. Marketing & Regulatory Information

I purposefully chose to "chunk" the content into five videos so that each video was less than 20 minutes long. I took this approach because it gives students options on how to interact with the videos (watch one video per day, watch all videos at once, etc.). This also allowed me to work on the videos separately. While one video was processing or uploading, I could be working on another. Creating these videos was a significant time investment on my part (and something that I may not have tackled during the fall or winter semesters) but I enjoyed the opportunity to learn new technologies and digital instructional methods. After recording, editing the video and audio, and adding and editing closed captions and a transcript, the videos were imported into the appropriate Canvas course site for easy student access. 

Additionally, I was able to include more contextual information in these videos than I was able to during the lecture. I created a short slidedeck that I screencast before switching to demonstrating how to search a particular resource. For example, in the slide deck for the Articles and Conference Proceedings video, I was able to discuss the differences between these two information types and why the students would want to use them. I was also able to remind students at the beginning and end of each video how they can reach me for help. 

Image of a single presentation slide about conference proceedings

Another benefit to me was relieving myself of some "instruction crunch" during September and January. Engineering classes traditionally want library instruction during these two months. This means that I spent much of my time during these months prepping, conducting and following up from instruction sessions plus holding student consultations. This leaves little time for my other work. 

Per faculty request, I created two quizzes in Canvas: one for the Patents & Standards video and one for the Marketing & Regulatory Information video. The faculty requested these two quizzes because they had seen students struggle the most with these information types and wanted graded quizzes to ensure that students were watching the videos. The quizzes included a ten question bank so students were randomly asked five of those questions (and not be able simply share the quiz answers with each other). I deliberately crafted questions where students had to do some searching in order to answer it (i.e. they had to use the skills that I demonstrated in the videos). This helped improve my own searching skills for these complex engineering, health sciences and business resources. 

These videos have been used for three semesters in multiple sections of the BME senior capstone course. One faculty member has decided to make viewing all five videos and completing the two quizzes mandatory. She also required the students to write a one page reflection after completing the videos and quizzes. She asked them to answer these questions: 

  • What tools/resources have you primarily used for literature searches before this semester or so far this semester (before these videos)?
  • Name some thing(s) you learned from the videos that you did not know before. Which new thing do you anticipate will be the most useful for you going forward?
  • What is something that was not presented in the videos that you are still wondering about? 
  • Historically, BME 450 has invited the library to come to class and give a ~60 minute lecture. Do you think you would have preferred a lecture to the video series and why or why not?
  • List any other ideas for improvements to the video series. 

After the course assignment deadline in September 2021, the faculty shared the student reflections with me. I did a quick qualitative analysis of the themes in their responses. The results were surprising and enlightening. 

Students Want Online Library Instruction

Overwhelmingly, students preferred the video series over in-person lectures: 26 out of 29 students (90%) preferred the videos. One preferred in-person and two had no preference. The four most frequently mentioned reasons for preferring the videos were: 

  1. The ability to stop, start or rewatch the videos as needed (n = 17)  
  2. Option to reference the videos later in the semester (n = 9) 
  3. Able to watch videos at own pace (n = 5) 
  4. Videos are straightforward and can easily be watched outside of class time alone (n = 4). One student wrote: “We should use class time for work/activities that benefit from a group setting.”

To me, the answers to this question were the most surprising, yet validating. My original impetus for creating the videos was the feeling that I wasn’t delivering the content well in-person, due to the large amount of information that I needed to cover. I knew that the faculty weren’t willing to give me more class time during lecture or give me time during discussion. I knew my lectures weren’t accessible for all students. I knew that my lecture assumed some level of library knowledge. I was thrilled to hear that students not only liked the videos but preferred them over an in-person lecture. The students want the flipped classroom approach (without using that phrase). They want in-person class time to be used for activities that can’t be done well virtually such as team work time. This particular group of students were sophomores in March 2020 when U-M moved to fully remote learning. They completed their junior year mostly virtually and now in Fall 2021, they did their senior year mostly in-person. They have experienced in-person, virtual, and hybrid undergraduate classes so they have a keen sense for what works well online vs. what works better in-person. 

Students Want Accessible Learning Objects 

Several of the students mentioned reasons related to accessibility issues for preferring the videos. One student appreciated that the videos had a full transcript available. Three students commented that they have trouble staying focused during lectures. And, as mentioned above, five students liked the option of watching videos at their own pace. Using videos for online library instruction vs. a one-shot in-person session is a huge win in the area of accessibility and universal design for learning. 

“though I am not one to typically express appreciation for quizzes, I found the quizzes to be very helpful in solidifying my knowledge of the resources available to us. Without the quizzes, I probably would have watched the videos/lecture and then subsequently forgotten everything until I actually needed to use the sites.” 

Students Want Quizzes

Another surprising theme from the student reflections was that the students liked the Canvas quizzes. In fact, they want more quizzes! The students said that the quizzes helped them by forcing them to put the knowledge conveyed in the videos into action. Watching the videos became more of an active task, rather than a passive one, knowing that they were going to have a graded quiz to complete. One student wrote, “though I am not one to typically express appreciation for quizzes, I found the quizzes to be very helpful in solidifying my knowledge of the resources available to us. Without the quizzes, I probably would have watched the videos/lecture and then subsequently forgotten everything until I actually needed to use the sites.” Four students even suggested adding three more quizzes so that every video has a quiz. 

Students Want More Library Instruction

Several students expressed dismay that they didn’t know about these library resources sooner. They specifically mentioned two courses where having these library videos would have been helpful. In future semesters, I will be targeting these courses, using this data gathered in this assessment as part of my "sales pitch" to include library instruction in their course. My ultimate goal is to scaffold their learning so they aren’t introduced to all of these engineering library skills, concepts and resources during their senior year. 

Why I’m Going to Continue Making Library Videos

Creating videos in lieu of in-person instruction does have several distinct disadvantages. First, I had to think very carefully about making videos that could be reused (i.e. not tied to a specific semester or the COVID-19 pandemic). Second, the time and effort investment means I hope to only make or update these videos every 3-4 years. After this time period, the content gets stale and the visuals outdated (such as the screencasts of my research guides). One benefit of analyzing these student reflections is that I see their suggestions for improvements to the videos. Students had some excellent suggestions, such as creating a Piazza discussion board for students to ask me questions, turning on the mouse spotlight feature or make the mouse appear bigger in the screencast portions, uploading my slide decks to Canvas so students can take notes on them while watching the videos, and adding more in-depth coverage of patent searching. I have captured these suggestions for when I redo the videos in approximately two years. I also plan on continuing to analyze student reflections to gather more data. 

I’m thrilled that, through analyzing these student reflections, the reasons I had hoped the students would prefer the videos over a one-shot session are actually the reasons students mentioned. I’ve found that my faculty are much more amenable to assigning library videos as opposed to using class time for library instruction. Ultimately, I believe that I’m creating a high quality learning experience for the students and also reaching more students. And finally, the importance of providing accessible library instruction for all students can’t be overstated. 

To use engineering lingo, the video series offers a "just in time" approach for student learning. Previously, my one-shot sessions were usually on the first day or week of class, before students had their design projects. Now, faculty are much more willing to assign the video when it makes more sense pedagogically (i.e. after students have their projects and are ready to start their research).  

I’m absolutely going to continue making videos for instruction, in lieu of one-shot library instruction sessions. I think it’s a scalable and sustainable way to provide instruction for my departments. After creating the videos, I can focus on providing more tailored instruction with students via consultations and email. As I write, I’ve already committed to making new videos for two Winter 2022 semester courses: one for a BME undergraduate course and one for an ME graduate course. Additionally, while faculty buy-in is necessary, I now have quantitative data (engineers love data!) to back up my instruction pitch of "your students want to learn about the U-M Library in your course because it will help them with their assignments.’"