President's Teaching Scholars Program

Deborah Hollis

Associate Professor
University of Colorado Boulder
University Libraries
Archives and Special Collections
184 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
(303) 492-3910
Deborah.hollis@colorado.edu

Amanda Brown

Senior Instructor
University of Colorado Boulder
University Libraries
Archives and Special Collections
184 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
(303) 492-7582
Amandra.brown@colorado.edu

Special Collections as a Learning Lab: How effective are we?

a. What is the central question, issue, or problem you plan to explore in your proposed work?
The central question that Senior Instructor Amanda Brown and I want to explore concerns teaching and learning strategies. We want to assess our undergraduate instruction methods in the UCB Special Collection Department through user feedback. Amanda and I plan to survey faculty and undergraduate students to measure the effectiveness of two types of instruction methods. Traditionally special collections departments in academic libraries define undergraduate instruction as lecturing about rare materials related to course content. Students listen passively to a lecture and rarely engage with rare materials or each other during the class session. These types of sessions become more of a local field trip, or one-shot lecture, and in the past it was hoped by librarians and faculty alike that students would return on their own to make use of rare works to complete a class assignment. Rarely did that happen.

Upon Ms. Brown’s joining the Libraries faculty in the fall of 2011 we began to tie short lectures to two types of teaching strategies to engage students in active learning experiences. One strategy involves lecturing to students for a short period of time and then asking them to explore rare works in small groups to answer two to three questions by the end of the class period. This encourages student engagement with each other and the rare materials. The second strategy involves course-integrated instruction that requires students to return to the department throughout the semester to complete a short paper, class blog post, or video assignment for course credit. This type of instruction is rare within the field of special collections librarianship and to date the special collections literature contains no substantive assessment of either instruction method.

b. Why is your central question, issue, or problem important to you and to others who might benefit from or build on your findings?
A 2010 Association of Research Libraries (ARL) survey of special collections and archives departments entitled Special Collections Engagement concluded that use of special collections and archives departments increased in the 21st century yet no assessments of public services have been conducted. Public services are defined as exhibit/outreach activities, reference, and instruction. It is important that Ms. Brown and I gather substantive feedback from faculty and undergraduates through online surveys focused solely on instruction, and analyze the results to refine our teaching methods. If designed properly our survey will reveal the students’ prior awareness of this library resource and more importantly assess the effectiveness of active learning and course-integrated instruction strategies. Building on our pilot project undertaken in the spring 2012 FTEP Assessment Institute Ms. Brown and I will survey faculty and undergraduates scheduled for fall 2012 and spring 2012 special collections instruction. Our FTEP Assessment Institute project surveyed seven undergraduate courses and was too small a sample in one semester to draw significant conclusions. This first endeavor was informative but now we want to expand the survey period over two semesters and include more courses. The expectation is that we may be able to survey as many as seventy courses over two semesters. With this type of study Ms. Brown and I can make a substantial contribution to the special collections instruction literature about learning and teaching outcomes.

c. How do you plan to conduct your investigation? What sources of evidence do you plan to examine? What methods might you employ to gather and make sense of this evidence? What literature have you reviewed on your topic?
Ms. Brown and I want to develop a Qualtrics online survey instrument for courses scheduled to visit Special Collections in the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters. We will gather basic demographic data about the student population such as major, year in school, and prior experience in Special Collections. We will also design questions to determine how the use of rare materials in Special Collections altered or added to their understanding of course content. No personal and/or identifiable information will be collected. We welcome assistance from a President’s Teaching Scholar regarding survey design and analysis to assess our teaching and learning strategies.

The 2010 ARL Special Collections Engagement survey reported that “of the 61 respondents who answered the evaluation section, 20 (special collections departments) do not evaluate student use of materials. Eighteen respondents rely on anecdotal feedback, and fourteen use surveys.” (Page 14) Seventy-nine of the 124 ARL members responded to the 2010 survey including UC Boulder Libraries. More research has been done in the area of archives instruction most recently Magia G. Krause’s article, Undergraduates in the Archives: Using an Assessment Rubric to Measure Learning, published in the American Archivist fall/winter 2010 issue. To date there has been no assessment of special collections instruction methods published in the special collections literature.

d. How might you make your work available to others in ways that facilitate scholarly critique and review, and that contribute to thought and practice beyond the local? (Keep in mind that coaching/mentoring will be available to invite you to develop these aspects of your proposal, so you need not feel you must present a finished project design at this time.)
The study will be of interest to archives and special collections administrators in college and university libraries and university library deans and directors in general. We will submit our findings to the refereed and open access journal College and Research Libraries (C&RL) published by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) which is a division of the American Library Association (ALA). C&RL has a large reading audience. Another possible refereed journal is the Journal of Academic Librarianship. We plan to report our findings locally and at a future ACRL conference meeting.

f. What is your record of innovation in teaching and/or the assessment of learning?
In 2002 UCB German Professor Ann Schmiesing and I co-authored a seminal article entitled The Role of Special Collections Departments in Humanities Undergraduate and Graduate Teaching: A Case Study published in the online journal portal: Libraries and the Academy. We discussed the learning outcomes and pedagogical rationale for including special collections in teaching humanities undergraduate and graduate courses. According to Google Scholar this article has been cited fifteen times, most recently in 2011, which is a significant number in academic library literature. The 2010 ARL special collections study includes this article in its extensive list of recommended reading. Ms. Brown and I want to advance the discussion in special collections literature with a more thorough analysis of specific instruction methods. Most recently Amanda and I were invited to present our initial findings at the Colorado Academic Library Association (CoALA). Our talk, Bringing Science Instruction into Special Collections was well received.

h. As part of your acceptance we ask that you make contact now with a faculty peer who agrees to serve in the collaborative as your coach, mentor or coach/mentor. Are you willing to set each coach/mentor meeting twice each semester? Yes.

Professor Noel Finkelstein, noah.finkelstein@colorado.edu, is willing to mentor In a limited capacity and introduce us to the DBER (discipline-based education research) community on campus. I am willing to schedule meetings and we can consult him via email as well. He is not available to attend the Denver meetings. I am in the process of contacting other potential mentors and hope to have more information about this shortly.

i. If your project is selected, are you willing to serve as a coach/mentor in PTLC in a future year? Yes.