Yesterday marked our annual instruction retreat here at Duke University Libraries. We gathered with colleagues from NC Central, North Carolina State University, and UNC Chapel Hill to focus on reflective teaching. David Carr opened the day by encouraging us all to think about how reflective teaching can empower users. David posed the question “at what point does the tool control the user, or shape the experience?” He advocates for restoring control to the user. This concept is especially useful for those of us interested in user centered design. As we think about how to restructure webpage content and as we select tools (reference books, citation managers) for use by students it is important to ask ourselves, “does this tool and my approach to teaching the tool empower the user?” David provided a list of several books that have inspired him:
A Paradise Built in Hell: Rebecca Solnit
To Think: Frank Smith
Blackout: Connie Willis

Rachael Clemens then led attendees in quick writing exercises designed to help us consider our motivations for teaching. As a starting point for reflective teaching you may want to consider some of the below prompts that Rachael provided during our session:

  1. What motivates me to be an instruction librarian?
  2. What do I expect to be the outcomes of my teaching?
  3. What standards or code of ethics guide me?
  4. What themes pervade my teaching?
  5. How do I know when I have taught successfully?

She then posed a second set of questions focused on actionable items and measurable deliverables:

  1. What are my objectives as an instruction librarian?
  2. What methods should I use to achieve those objectives?
  3. How shall I measure my effectiveness?
  4. How do I justify my value?

Following our writing exercises we were provided with tools for on the ground reflection by Sarah Bankston and Hannah Rozear. This session emphasized post-class reflection and was a good reminder of the value of immediate reflection for those of us who may not be naturally inclined to record our classroom experiences on a daily basis. You can access their handout here.

We wrapped up the day with sessions by Hugh Crumley and Doug James. Hugh and Doug discussed preparing future faculty to be reflective teachers, the support you as a librarian can offer those students while they are in graduate school, as well as the power of peer observation and teaching triangles in strengthening classroom delivery.

Doug suggested several titles, including:
Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher: Stephen Brookfield
The Courage to Teach: Parker Palmer
To Know as we are Known: Parker Palmer

Several of our colleagues expressed a desire to incorporate teaching triangles methodology into their workflow over the next year. Here in Instruction & Outreach we will help them begin that process by re-articulating the methodologies proposed by Doug and Hugh to distill them into library-centric exercises. We have recently been creating case studies to profile the way our librarians are working with new technologies in the classroom. By triangulating our case studies (often tool and technology focused) with teaching triangles, peer observation, and reflective teaching methodology we will certainly challenge ourselves to continue to incorporate reflection into our library instruction sessions and consider the role of reflective teaching in the academic library environment.

I know I left the day feeling rejuvenated by the small group exercises, and challenged to think about my own presence in the classroom. I think the most enjoyable part of the annual retreat is reconnecting with our instruction colleagues from area TRLN institutions. We are so fortunate to have such a thoughtful group of librarians that make the trip to Duke each year for the instruction retreat. I’ll look forward to seeing many of these faces again soon at the TRLN Annual Meeting on July 13!


via flickr user asenat29

This is my last post to the Instruction & Outreach blog, and I have decided to spend this one reflecting upon my experience with Duke Libraries and a few of my projects.  Getting the chance to learn from Diane, Emily, Amber, and Erin has been a gift, and I am thankful to have been a part of this great department this semester.

I really appreciate that I was able to pursue individual projects as well as team projects. Throughout the semester I investigated possible uses of technology in instruction, and I reported some of what I found about collaborative learning spaces in an earlier blog post.

Another project involved surveying the landscape of library instruction spaces. A lot of places have library classrooms very similar to those at Duke: desktop computers for the students, an instructor’s station up front, a projector and screen(s). However, I was excited to see some of the spaces at Penn State University Libraries’ new Knowledge Commons. One classroom in particular was based on the Steelcase LearnLab concept which has the instructor’s station in the center of the room with student desks and chairs radiating out from it and screens on the surrounding walls to allow for more student-centric, collaborative work.  This emphasis on designing spaces to accommodate collaborative work and active learning seems to be growing, and it is encouraging to see architects taking notes from what is actually happening in the classroom in order to inform design.

One of the creative projects that I got to work on was a photo study pilot that took a look at the way spaces are used on the first floor of Bostock.  I was fortunate to join Erin and Brian, the Research Services Intern at the helm of the project, on this venture.  It was a great experience to puzzle through the logistics of taking photos in such a busy and varied space in order to capture furniture and technology use. Likewise, I learned a lot through the process of deciding how to categorize and analyze the data we gathered. One of the surprising revelations, to me at least, was that students at the time we ran our pilot seemed to prefer the hard seating and tables rather than the soft seating. It will be interesting to follow up once the project is out of the pilot stage to see if this preference changes throughout the day.

As my final act within the department, I have the pleasure of co-leading a session with Hannah Rozear from the Divinity School Library at the upcoming Instruction Retreat. The theme of the retreat is reflection, and Hannah and I will present strategies and tools for “reflection on the run.” In an earlier post I wrote about reflection, so it is nice to bring this experience full circle by getting the chance to talk about reflection once again and hear how others incorporate reflection into their practice.

It was a real treat to work at Duke Libraries and with the Duke community—thank you all for making this such a wonderful experience!


This spring, Emily Daly and I conducted a usability study of subject and course guides using the LibGuides interface at Duke. Emily and Alice Whiteside had completed a usability study in 2010 and made recommendations for guide design.  We were interested in evaluating the guides again and seeing whether the guidelines needed updating.

How we did it

For this round of testing, I selected four subject guides and four course guides, attempting to cover a broad range of subject areas and guide design.  Subjects completed two tasks for each guide, then were asked to rate the ease of use of the guide, as well as elaborate on features that made the guide difficult to use and easy to use, and make suggestions to improve usability of the guide.

We used two different methods of data collection.  First, we went to the Bryan Center and randomly asked people to participate in the study.  Emily facilitated while I observed and took notes.  Subjects were asked to think aloud as they completed the tasks.  The screen capture and audio were also recorded in Morae for later analysis.  Only subject guides were tested in this way.

Next, we adapted the subject guide and course guide test instruments into worksheets.  Emily took them to meetings of the Undergraduate Advisory Board and asked students to go through the tasks and answer the questions, writing their processes and thoughts on the worksheets.

In total, 20 students participated in the testing; 13 tested subject guides and 7 tested course guides.  We had each student look at two guides, so each subject guide was tested by at least six different people, and each course guide was tested by at least three people.


  1. Users prefer short, targeted lists of resources and few tabs, though they expressed appreciation for having the guide organized into several tabs, rather than listing all resources on one page
  2. Users find succinct descriptions of resources helpful, but do not seem to use descriptions that appear upon mouseover
  3. Most users found the tabbed navigation easy, but were confused by ambiguous or unclear tab naming
  4. Users appreciated the organization of resources into boxes, but were again confused by unclear box naming
  5. Users will focus on the top center of the first page and generally will not scroll all the way down a long page
  6. Users who are unfamiliar with the LibGuides interface want some sort of guidance or orientation
  7. Users found RSS feeds of recent books from the library catalog confusing or not useful and expressed a preference for a link to a catalog search on a topic


  1. Limit the number of resources, or highlight a few to give students a starting point
  2. Provide short in-line descriptions of resources indicating what information can be found using a particular resource
  3. Provide an introduction to the purpose and organization of the guide on the first page (this can be a table of contents with a short blurb about the contents of each page)
  4. Take care when naming tabs and boxes, making sure they clearly describe content they contain in language users can understand (i.e. avoid library jargon)
  5. Rather than creating an RSS feed for recent library materials on a topic, provide a list of suggested books or search terms, or link to a catalog search on a topic

I presented the study and findings to Duke librarians last week.  They had great questions, and even did some brainstorming on how to implement some of the recommendations.  If you’re interested in learning more, Emily or I can provide you with the full report, including the script and worksheets.


It’s hard to believe that the end of the spring semester is upon us already, but LDOC (Duke-speak for “last day of classes”) is Wednesday, and exams end May 5, which means that it won’t be long before the results of students’ hard work begin streaming into my inbox.  That’s right:  May 15th is the submission deadline for the 2012 Durden Prize and Middlesworth Award, prizes given by Duke University Libraries each year to reward outstanding efforts of our student researchers.

Undergraduates who make exceptional use of library services and collections (and yes, students, articles you get online through the Libraries website count!) are eligible for the Durden Prize, a relatively new prize, established in 2009 and named in honor of Robert F. Durden, professor emeritus of history.

Applicants for this year’s Durden Prize should submit papers written for classes taken in Summer 2011, Fall 2011 or Spring 2012, along with a cover sheetfaculty statement of support and a short essay detailing their research process.  A committee of three librarians will review all submissions and select approximately 10 finalists, which will then be reviewed by an additional two faculty members.  The full selection committee will then name finalists and three winners — one first/second-year student, one in third/fourth-year student and one honors thesis student — by the end of August.  Students or faculty with additional questions are welcome to contact me.

Undergraduates OR graduate students who incorporate materials from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library into their research are invited to submit papers, along with a nomination form from a faculty member they worked with on their project, for consideration for the Middlesworth Award.  A selection committee of librarians and faculty members will review papers and name winners and honorable mentions by the end of September.  For more information about the Middlesworth Award, contact David Pavelich.

All winners will be recognized at a reception held the Friday afternoon of Parents and Family Weekend 2012, where they will receive certificates and $1000.

Again, submissions for both awards are due to the Libraries by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 15 — send Durden applications to me and Middlesworth submissions to David.  We look forward to reading students’ innovative papers and thoughtful research essays and being inspired by Duke’s budding scholars again this year!


Traveling Skeptics

On March 16, 2012 By