The Active Learner Classroom

Last month’s post on Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) was one example of a technique that could be used to promote an “active learner classroom”. This month we’ll unpack the active learner classroom concept, to get a sense of how an active classroom might further students’ information literacy.

It is likely that you already use active learning techniques in many of your classes and workshops, as any activity that allows students to participate in class is an example of active learning. A typical lesson often combines active student learning, e.g., hands-on activities, and instructor lecturing. In an active learning classroom, the role of the instructor is to lecture less and instead guide the students in directions that will allow them to “discover” the material, bringing them into the process of their own education. In this process students are meant to engage their higher learning. The point is not to make students busy, but to stimulate the processes of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

The “why” of active learner classrooms is to address the shortcomings of a lecture-only lesson, which include students’ diminishing attention in class, and non-engagement of higher learning processes such as analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating. How does learning in an active classroom differ from a strictly lecture-based classroom? First of all, less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more emphasis is placed on developing students’ skills. Second, students get to practice higher order thinking: analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating, by being involved in activities like discussion, writing, reading and using digital tools. In a library information literacy setting discussion could be about the value of particular information sources (evaluating information’s usefulness to a specific research topic); using digital tools could simply be having students conduct searches using library databases. The emphasis being placed on group interaction and hands-on practice. Modeling the use of, say, a database and then allowing students to try using the tool themselves can go a long way in having students discover for themselves how to use the tools to find what they need – thus achieving one of the goals of active learning: stimulated personal inquiry and a degree of self-sufficiency when it comes to information literacy.

Some basics steps an instructor could use to foster an active learning classroom are:

  1. Talking informally with students as they arrive for class
  2. Expecting that students would participate and acting accordingly
  3. Arranging the classroom to encourage participation including putting chairs in a cluster
  4. Using small group discussion, questioning, and writing to allow for non-threatening methods of student discussion
  5. Giving students time to give responses, do not rush them
  6. Rewarding students for participating by praising them or paraphrasing what they say
  7. Reducing anonymity by introducing yourself and asking the students for their names. Ask the class to relate previous library experiences as you do this
  8. Drawing the students into discussion by showing the relevance of the library to their studies
  9. Allowing students time to ask questions at the end of class

The above are meant to provide a basis and overview of the active learner classroom. Upon this theoretical foundation, and basic tips, a whole host of specific active learning techniques could be used, and modified for use, to further library information literacy. Active learning is not meant to totally replace the lecture, as lecturing still has a place either alongside or apart from active learning, particularly in classrooms with a large number of students. However, given that many library instruction workshops have a small number of students, library workshops may be a great place to try some of the techniques and activities of active learning.

For more on the active learner classroom please see:

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see:

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee

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Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT)

This month’s installment is on Just-in-Time Teaching, or JiTT for short. This teaching and learning strategy requires web-based study assignments completed by the students before class and is meant to promote an active learner classroom, though virtually all JiTT instruction occurs in a classroom with human instructors. The web materials, are added as a pedagogical resource to which students respond, and which are due shortly before class. The instructor reads the student submissions “just-in-time” to adjust the classroom lesson to suite the students’ needs. Thus, the heart of JiTT is the “feedback loop” formed by the students’ outside-of-class preparation that fundamentally affects what happens during the subsequent in-class time together.

WarmUps are the heart of the JiTT web component. These are short, web-based assignments, prompting the student to think about the upcoming lesson and answer a few simple questions prior to class. Students are expected to develop the answer as far as they can on their own, no prior instruction on the topic is required. The instructor then finishes the job in the classroom. These assignments are due just a few hours before class time. The responses are delivered to the instructor electronically to form the framework for the classroom activities that follow. Typically, the instructors duplicates sample responses, e.g., on transparencies, and takes them to class. The interactive classroom session, built around these responses, replaces the traditional lecture/recitation format.

In preparing WarmUp assignments for an upcoming class meeting, the instructor first creates a conceptual outline of the lesson content. This task is similar to the preparation of a traditional passive lecture. As the instructor works on the outline, attention is payed to the pedagogical issues that the instructor needs to focus on when in the classroom. Are new concepts being introduced? Is the instructor building on a previous lesson? What are the important points that we wish the students to remember from the session? Once this outline has been created, the instructor can create broadly based questions that will lead students to grapple with as many of the issues as possible. Student responses then provide the framework on which instructors build the in-class experience. Try adapting the following WarmUp example (below) to your instructional sessions to promote a more active and interactive class experience.

Example of a WarmUp for library instruction:

Warm Up 1: LIB 004 – Evaluating Information

QUESTION 1: What is the difference between popular and scholarly sources/articles? You may want to look these terms up before answering. Be as specific as you can, and give an example of each.

QUESTION 2: What characteristic determines whether an article is scholarly or popular?

QUESTION 3: Evaluate the following article (provide a sample article)

More information on JiTT can be found on the following site:

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see:

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee

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Teaching Students with Disabilities (III) – Hearing Loss

In keeping with our theme of inclusive teaching and teaching students with different learning abilities, this month’s topic will focus on teaching students with hearing loss. We’ll begin by briefly reminding all instructors that students are not obliged to identify their disability and also, as mentioned in our previous posting on teaching using inclusive design, instructors implementing the principles of inclusive design in their classrooms do so for the benefit of all learners regardless of their ability. Keeping this in mind let’s move onto the topic at hand.

An estimated 2.8 million Canadians have varying degrees of hearing loss, from hard-of-hearing, through deafened to deaf.  Moreover, students with hearing loss often do not self-identify their disability even though their inability to hear negatively impacts their potential for learning and participation in class. The tips that will be presented here are best practices for teaching students whatever level of hearing loss they may have.

In Classroom Tips:

Make full use of all available technology in the classroom

• Use either the wireless microphone, or the microphone wired to the teaching station. Remember to turn off any microphone that you are not using; it causes interference.

• Assistive Listening Devices (ALD / Gentners) will only transmit sound from the microphones or the VHS/DVD player when the wired or wireless microphone is on.

• Turn OFF audiovisual equipment when not in use to reduce background noise.

Permit only one student to speak at a time, and have students identify themselves (hand up) before they begin to speak or point to them.

• Repeat into the microphone all relevant Q&A from other students.

• Summarize discussion or group work visually (chalkboard, projected image, etc.)

• Incorporate visual aids, handouts, etc.

• Provide information in electronic format.

• Plan a 10 minute break every 1 1/2 hours.

• Students should sit in a circle when doing group work or when it is a small class so that each person’s face is visible

• Only talk when you are facing the students in the classroom

• Avoid moving around the room when you are talking

• Consider including information on the appropriate classroom communication environment in your course syllabus

Things to Avoid:

Situations where the student cannot clearly see your

face – e.g.- talking to the chalkboard, screen or overhead/

document camera; or positioning yourself with mirrors or

windows behind you, or shadows on your face

• Pacing or excessive movement – this interferes with voice transmission

• Talking during a film or video

• Using a film or video that cannot be close captioned

• Drawing attention to the student

• Yelling, exaggerating, or speaking unnaturally slowly

• Changing topics without letting the student know

• Extraneous noise in the classroom from students talking during lectures, typing on their keyboards, eating or otherwise creating disturbances

For more on teaching students with hearing loss see:

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see:

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee

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Teaching for Inclusion: Inclusive Design

One of the common concerns instructors have about accommodations is whether they will change the nature of the course they are teaching. However, accommodations are designed to give all students equal access to learning in the classroom. When planning your course, consider the following questions (from Scott, 1998):

  • What is the purpose of the course?
  • What methods of instruction are absolutely necessary? Why?
  • What outcomes are absolutely required of all students? Why?
  • What methods of assessing student outcomes are absolutely necessary? Why?
  • What are acceptable levels of performance on these student outcome measures

When teaching a student with any disability, it is important to remember that many of the principles for inclusive design could be considered beneficial to any student. The idea of “Universal Design” is a method of designing course materials, content, and instruction to benefit all learners. Instead of adapting or retrofitting a course to a specific audience, Universal Design emphasizes environments that are accessible to everyone regardless of ability. By focusing on these design principles when crafting a syllabus, you may find that most of your course easily accommodates all students. (Hodge & Preston-Sabin, 1997)

Many of Universal Design’s methods emphasize a deliberate type of teaching that clearly lays out the course’s goals for the semester and for the particular class period. For instance, a syllabus with clear course objectives, assignment details, and deadlines helps students plan their schedules accordingly. Additionally, providing an outline of the day’s topic at the beginning of a class period and summarizing key points at the end can help students understand the logic of your organization and give them more time to record the information.

Similarly, some instructional material may be difficult for students with certain disabilities. For instance, when showing a video in class you need to consider your audience. Students with visual disabilities may have difficulty seeing non-verbalized actions; while those with disorders like photosensitive epilepsy may experience seizures with flashing lights or images; and those students with hearing loss may not be able to hear the accompanying audio. Using closed-captioning, providing electronic transcripts, describing on-screen action, allowing students to check the video out on their own, and outlining the role the video plays in the day’s lesson helps reduce the access barrier for students with disabilities and allows them the ability to be an active member of the class. Additionally, it allows other students the opportunity to engage with the material in multiple ways as needed. (Burgstahler & Cory, 2010; Scott, McGuire & Shaw, 2003; Silver, Bourke & Strehorn, 1998)

For more on teaching using inclusive design as well as teaching students with disabilities please see

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee


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Teaching Students with Disabilities (II) – Visual Impairments

What would you do if you had a student with a disability in your workshop? Example – a student with a visual impairment? You may not be able to recognize students with visual impairments, and a student does not have to identify his or her disability. Though they can hear lectures and discussions, students with visual disabilities are often frustrated by class syllabi, textbooks, chalkboard diagrams, overhead projections, films, maps, videos, printed exams, Scantron answer sheets, laboratory demonstrations, and Internet websites designed to be navigated by clicking on images.

Students with visual disabilities vary considerably. Some have no vision, others are able to see large shapes, and still others can read standard print if magnified. Depending on their disabilities, they use a variety of accommodations, equipment, and compensatory strategies. For example, many students with visual disabilities need extra time for exams and projects, and many use readers or amanuenses for exams.

Following are some suggestions on instructing students with visual disabilities:

  • Students with visual disabilities may need preferential seating. Your student should be seated near the front of the class to hear clearly what is being presented and to see as much as possible.
  • When using a PowerPoint slides as part of you workshop, use a large print-size: at least 18 points. Provide additional time for students with visual disabilities to copy the material, or provide them with printed copies.
  • Whenever possible, modify the presentation of material to make it accessible.
  • Allow the student to audiotape lectures or use a note-taker.
  • Pace the presentation of material; if referring to a handout, allow time for students with visual disabilities to find the information.
  • When lecturing, avoid making statements that cannot be understood by people without sight: for example, “This diagram sums up what I am saying about statistics.” (Don’t worry about using words and phrases that refer to sight: for example, “See you later!” Such expressions are commonly used, and most people with visual disabilities don’t find them offensive.)
  • Read aloud everything that you write on the board. Verbally describe objects and processes whenever possible.
  • In making comparisons and analogies, use familiar objects that don’t depend on prior visual knowledge. Foods and objects found around the house are good choices.

This list above may not be fully comprehensive, but these points can inform and can help guide you in preparing for an inclusive and accessible workshop.

Next month’s blog will see a continuation of this series on teaching students with disabilities.

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee


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Teaching Students with Disabilities (I)

Hi there everyone. The LINC teaching blog is up after a brief interlude, beginning afresh with a new theme that may be worthy of a series of entries. Since becoming law in 2005 the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislated a set of rules that universities need to comply with, by set dates, in order to improve accessibility to people with disabilities. Since 2010 the university has had to provide accessible customer service in order to serve customers of all abilities by allowing assistive devices, allowing service animals, and welcoming support persons. Since 2013 the university has had to train educators on how to teach accessible programs, provide accessible educational information, and provide accessible school library resources. More on AODA laws can be found here , and dates of AODA compliance here .

It is time to consider some factors that teaching librarians and their teaching assistants should take into account when delivering workshops, seeking to make them accessible to all library patrons. Let’s begin by looking at some basic initial steps an instructor could take in order to make his or her workshop accessible:

General Suggestions on Teaching Students with Disabilities

Get more disability information. AccessAbility Services has valuable information on disability resources: Some students coming to library workshops may have made arrangements through Library Accessibility Services ( for in class accommodation, which could include a note taker, access to materials unavailable on-line, use of a laptop in class, FM system, or portable CCTV. To provide instructional sessions in an accessible manner the instructor should take into account the diverse needs of potential participants when preparing for public instructional sessions and proactively seek to accommodate participants with disabilities in their preferred manner. More information on providing accessible customer service at the university can be found in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Toolkit: . Keep in mind that since students are usually the experts on their own disabilities you could ask them if you require more information about how they learn best and what they need in order to learn; however, also keep in mind that students have the right not to divulge the nature of their disability, so instructors should not ask what disability the student has, but rather how the student can be best accommodated.

As the sub-title to this section indicates these are general suggestions and information for teaching librarians and their assistants to consider, not a comprehensive set of rules. Indeed this blog is using AODA legislation as the starting point and background to discussion, but it is not meant to be an official and complete exposition of OADA regulations

Stay tuned for next month’s continuation of teaching students with disabilities where we will look at tips for teaching students who have specific disabilities.

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee


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Formative Assessment Techniques

August, 2015

As a teacher have you ever wondered if the students in your class are “getting” what you are teaching them? If your library workshop is a one-off session occurring once per term with little or no opportunity to follow up with students after teaching you may want to consider using formative – or “low stakes” – assessment. Formative assessment techniques monitor student learning during the learning process. The feedback gathered is used to identify areas where students are struggling so that instructors can adjust their teaching and students can adjust their studying.

Here are just a few formative assessment techniques that you may want to try in your class:

Written Reflections. Sometimes referred to as “Minute Papers” or “Muddiest Points,” these popular assessment techniques have students reflect immediately following a learning opportunity (e.g., at the end of a class or after completing an out-of-class activity) to answer one or two basic questions like:

“What was the most important thing you learned today?”

“What was the most confusing topic today?”

“What important question remains unanswered?”

A written reflection asks students to develop a short, written response about what they learned from instruction and/or what caused them difficulty in understanding. The minute paper is as beneficial in promoting student reflection as it is for providing information for the instructor. It requires no time to develop and minimal time to administer and analyze. You can then review students’ responses, make notes about what was valuable to students, and reteach course concepts that students frequently identify as unclear.

Checks for Understanding. Pausing every few minutes to see whether students are following along with the lesson not only identifies gaps in comprehension, but helps break up lectures (e.g, with Clicker questions) or online lessons (e.g., with embedded quiz questions), questions put on slides or written on the board, into more digestible bites.

Lecture Wrappers. “Wrapping” activities, using a set of reflective questions, can help students develop skills to monitor their own learning and adapt as necessary. Questions at the beginning of class regarding what students anticipate getting out of a lesson and/or at the end of class about the key points of the lesson. Having students compare their key points to the instructor’s can help students develop skills in active listening and important information.

For more Formative Assessment Techniques see:

For general information on different kinds of assessment, formative, summative, and baseline see:

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see:

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee

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Techniques for the Small Class

July, 2015

Experience reveals that library instruction sessions vary in the number of students who register and show up to a workshop. Sometimes a session has many students 20+ attending, sometimes only a handful of students show up. Despite what we may consider an optimal number of students for our sessions, both large and small class sizes offer teaching opportunities, and the resourceful instructor will adapt to class size and take advantage of opportunities presented. This month we will consider taking advantage of small class size, seeing that it is not uncommon to have fewer students present at Spring Term workshops. With a smaller class size the instructor may want to try some of the following teaching techniques:

Silent Reflection:

This is where you give students a few minutes to think about a problem or issue. Ask them to write down their thoughts or ideas on a note pad. Keep the task specific. For example, ask them to write down the three ways they go about finding information on a research topic, or where they search for articles/book, or what difficulties do they encounter when looking for resources for a research paper, etc. Ask students to share their ideas with their neighbour before moving into a discussion phase. Once students have reflected on the question, written down their answer and shared with a neighbour you could ask them to share with the rest of the class a segway to a your discussion of your workshop topic. This technique suits quieter students and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to provide feedback.


This is the term used to describe activities undertaken by groups of students working to a brief under their own direction. They can be asked to undertake internet or literature searches, debate an issue, explore a piece of text, prepare an argument, design an artefact or many other tasks. To achieve productively, they will need an explicit brief, appropriate resources and clear outcomes.

Specialist accommodation is not always necessary; syndicates can work in groups spread out in a large room, or, where facilities permit, go away and use other classrooms etc. If the task is substantial, the tutor may wish to move from group to group, or may be available on a ‘help desk’ at a central location. Outcomes may be in the form of assessed work from the group or produced at a plenary as described above.

Click on the following link for more techniques for both small and large class sizes:

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee

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The Cephalonian Method for Information Literacy

May, 2015

Back in 2002 librarians at Cardiff University developed the Cephalonian Method as a teaching technique used in library instruction. Some background information on the Cephalonian Method can be found on the ACRLog .

To implement this technique all you need are some index cards. Before your class prepare the index cards with questions relating to the material you plan to cover in your session (e.g., how do I find course reserves?; where do I search for articles?). Colour code or number each index card. As students arrive, pass out the index cards to the class. During your presentation, use the cards as a way of generating student participation. At the appropriate time in your presentation, call out a number or colour and have the student holding that card read the question aloud. Use the student’s question as an opportunity to discuss the library’s services and resources or to cover simple information literacy concepts. The Cephalonian Method promotes student participation as it prompts students to ask pertinent questions instead of just passively listening to the instructor. Think of it as a way initiating a Socratic type of dialogue between students and instructor and you will have your class understanding concepts that might otherwise have been all Greek to them.

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see:

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee

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Using i-clickers for Library Instruction

Continuing with our practical approach to library instruction, this April we have a real hands-on tip for using the i-clicker tool for library instruction, including where to access i-clickers at the University of Waterloo for use in library instruction.

What are clickers and how do they work?

Clickers are an interactive technology that enables instructors to pose questions to students and immediately collect and view the responses of the entire class. This is how clickers work:

  1. Instructors present multiple-choice questions (verbally or with presentation software like PowerPoint).
  2. Students click in their answers using remote transmitters.
  3. The system instantly collects and tabulates the results, which instructors can view, save, and (if they wish) display anonymously for the entire class to see.

What is the pedagogical value of using clickers?

No technology automatically enhances learning; rather, it must be used thoughtfully and deliberately to advance the learning objectives of a particular course. For example, an instructor in a large or medium-size class might choose to use clickers to:

  1. Elicit student participation and engagement to prompt deeper thinkingabout a particular question or problem.
  2. Monitor students’ understanding of course content in real time, in order to identify and address areas of confusion and adjust the pace of the course appropriately.
  3. Provide students with instant feedback on their comprehension to help them monitor their own understanding.
  4. Spark discussion among students as they compare, justify, and (perhaps) modify their answers.
  5. Efficiently deliver and grade in-class quizzes, to hold students accountable for readings and lecture material and assess basic factual knowledge.

What are the potential trade-offs to using clickers?

Research across a wide range of disciplines has demonstrated learning advantages to using clickers. However, there are potential “costs” to consider along with potential benefits. For example:

1. It can take an initial investment of time to learn to use the system and manage the data it generates.

2.Monitoring students’ understanding and responding appropriately requires on-the-fly flexibility and some loss of some predictability when delivering lectures.

  1. Using clickers takes class time, though the amount of class time depends on how you choose to use the technology.
  2. Creating good concept questions (in particular, questions that help you diagnose misconceptions) can be challenging.

How might I use clickers?

Here is an example of how clickers could be used:

A Library instructor checks students’ comprehension of the material by posing questions at several points in every lecture, and asking students to click in their answers. The system immediately displays a graphic representation of students’ answers to the instructor, who uses it to determine whether s/he should slow down, repeat information, clarify a concept, provide an alternative example, pick up the pace, etc.

Where to access clickers to use for Library Instruction at the University of Waterloo?

Clickers can be borrowed from CTE, in EV1. Our contact there is Paul Kates. We have previously borrowed up to 40 clickers plus the receiver. You also need to borrow a receiver, which you can get from Paul as well, whose contact information can be found at the bottom of the following page:

In order to actually use them, you’ll need the i-clicker software, which is also found on the above page by clicking on IST clicker software page.

IST has a page dedicated to clicker information:

Manufacturer’s website:

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see:

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee


“Teaching with Clickers.” Carnegie Mellon. Eberly Center, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

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