Subject Librarian

Information Skills Workshops

Lecture theatre

(Image c/o markus spiske on Flickr.)

I’ve banged on a little bit in the past about using Mentimeter as a live polling tool with students in my workshops – particularly in terms of crowd-sourcing keywords. Recently I tried it out as a pure polling tool in an information skills workshop, specifically in relation to a quick test to teach the students (undergraduates) the importance of going to source material instead of relying on second-hand reporting.

As part of the undergraduate programme, I have to deliver a one hour information skills session. The session itself covers basic searching skills, but also covers some important tips about seeking out information and evaluating it. As part of this element I decided to present them with a couple of conflicting news stories and asked them to tell me what they thought after reading them. And that was the part of the session that was both most scary and most interesting – I asked my students (over 100 of them in a huge lecture theatre) to quietly read the articles for five minutes before I asked them a question. Surprisingly, this worked quite well and there was no disruption (although the session was recorded using lecture capture software so…).

First I got them to read this piece in The Guardian:

Vaping: e-cigarettes safer than smoking, says Public Health England

Then, using the polling software, I asked them:

“Are e-cigarettes safer than smoking cigarettes?”

After voting was complete, I then asked them to read the following:

Experts criticise Public Health England e-cigarettes review

And once more asked them the same question. It was interesting (although not surprising) to see the shift in the vote from “yes” to “don’t know” (you can see the results here). The key point to this was, of course, that it is important to refer to the source material – it is not enough to simply read the reports in newspapers (even quality newspaper) and draw a conclusion, one also needs to interrogate the report upon which the articles are based (not just reading the report, but interrogating…looking at the authors, trying to identify any potential agenda etc etc).

Of course, I’m not sure to what extent this had the desired effect, but it certainly seemed to go down well, with at least 50% of the students in the lecture theatre taking part. And, of course, it was particularly pleasing that the risk to ask the students to quietly read for 5 minutes actually worked out ok. I’ll certainly look to build on this for future workshops (I also ran a session at the Radical Librarians Collective gathering in Huddersfield which required 10 minutes of silent reading – maybe this could be my new thing!).

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