ACRL IS Discussion Forum 2009: Using Discovery-Based Learning to Engage Students with Information Literacy

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Scenario-Based Learning Activity

Participants were given the following scenario: "You are a new librarian at a mid-sized university. Your dean whole heartedly embraces discovery learning techniques that are developmentally appropriate. How do you make this work in a 50-minute session where you will likely not see the students again?" Participants then worked in groups to create a possible answer to the scenario. Some of the techniques mentioned included:

  • Ask students an opening question to determine level of understanding and divide into groups
  • Have students work in pairs to compare the University website and Wikipedia entry
  • Worksheet at beginning of class, with instruction saved for the end
  • Present students with articles to find at the beginning, and then use their results to provide instruction
  • Have groups find articles (with reasons why) and report back to group
  • Utilize "accomplished" students to serve as peer instructors
  • Incorporating technology (clickers, YouTube, flickr, etc)

As this was a first year class, participants were asked to think about assuming whether the students would be at the most basic of developmental levels.

General Discussion Questions

We then began discussing the questions that are outlined above. Due to time constraints, we did not get to discuss all questions in depth. Some themes were evident from the resulting discussion, including:

  • Importance of Parameters When planning instruction, it is important to consider all parameters that one is working under. Some of these parameters might be imposed by others or the teaching environment. For instance, the classroom might not be conducive to group work, or there may not be enough workstations for each student. Additionally, the faculty member may require too much content that utilizing discovery-based techniques is not a possibility.
  • New or Old? While this technique seems new and fresh, it is analogous to other active learning techniques that have been around for some time. It is important for us to be aware of "new" pedagogical techniques, even if we decide personally not to adapt them.
  • Reality and Context are Keys It is important to present discovery-based techniques in real situations, i.e. pose real research questions based upon current events instead of canned strategies that demonstrate well. Placing research scenarios within the context of students' existing knowledge is also important.
  • Best Technique There are many instances where discovery-based techniques are not the best method, or indeed, not appropriate to the session that one is teaching. Instructors should use discovery-based techniques only if they are truly interested in this type of active learning, and they are comfortable with the style.
  • Campus Climate For discovery-based learning to truly work, it needs to be engrained in the campus climate and utilized in many classrooms outside the library. Some campuses may not be conducive to using this technique at all.

Suggested Readings:

Baxter-Magolda, M.B. (2009). Authoring Your Life: Developing an Internal Voice to Navigate Life’s Challenges. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Carini, R.M., Kuh, G.D., and Klein, S.P.(2006). “Student Engagement and Student Learning: Testing the Linkage.” Research in Higher Education, 47(1): 1-32.

Jones, B.F., Valdez, G., Nowakowski, J. and Rasmussen, C. Designing Learning and Technology for Educational Reform (North Central Regional Education Laboratory, 1994). http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/engaged.htm

Jones, Gareth J. F. (2009). “An Inquiry-based Learning Approach to Teaching Information Retrieval." ”Information Retrieval 12(2): 148-161

Miami University (2009). “Miami: The Engaged University.” http://www.units.muohio.edu/EngagedLearning/info.html

Pieters, J.M. (2004). “Designing Artefacts for Inquiry and Collaboration When the Learner Takes the Lead.” European Educational Research Journal, 3(1): 77-100.


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