Good examples

Category: Good examples

Embedded librarianship in Blackboard: examples

Half of my title is “Distance Services Librarian,” and while I had taken online courses while obtaining my library science degree, I wasn’t sure how to start integrating library resources into online courses, which have grown massively in number here at John Jay. I talked with a lot of librarians at other colleges who worked with online classes, and many said they’d been  embedded librarians.

The literature about embedded librarianship is either about a librarian assigned to an in-person class who shows up in the classroom every week, which is not what we’re talking about and also sounds v. exhausting, or about a librarian who visits a Blackboard course and posts content. Looking into the latter, there are many articles about the topic, but not a lot of actual examples. So here are some from my own experience.

Workflow of our embedded librarian program

  1. Instructors request a librarian to be enrolled in their online-only course for a week. Librarians arrange who’s going to take on the course.
  2. The librarian and instructor discuss which needs should be addressed. The librarian runs tentative curriculum (bulleted list of items they’ll post) by the instructor, just to make sure all objectives are hit.
  3. The Blackboard admin enrolls the librarian in the course with the instructor’s permission. On our campus, there’s a dedicated Librarian role in Blackboard, which has all the power of an instructor role except accessing the grade center.
  4. The librarian posts a folder of content early on Monday or the Friday before. See below for examples.
  5. During the week, the librarian answers questions in a dedicated discussion forum. This often reaches into the weekend, with several questions coming in on Sunday night, so the librarian should set expectations, e.g., “will respond to your questions within one business day.”
  6. The Blackboard admin un-enrolls the librarian.

Examples of embedded librarianship in Blackboard

These are screenshots from courses (edited to anonymize everything but me).

Example of content posted in a Blackboard course by a librarian: tutorial video, recommended databases, animated gif about keywords, citation information
Example from a lit class. Click to view larger

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The faculty toolbox for online learning


When I code, I love simply copying and pasting from an example website or someone’s open source code. Most of my projects begin as a collage of different code samples that are gradually tuned to my goal. That copy/paste ethos informed my latest work in progress, the Faculty Toolbox.

What’s inside?

The Faculty Toolbox is a goody bag for John Jay faculty who teach online. Inside, there are special library modules they can drag & drop into a course shell; simple instructions for embedding streaming videos; a proxied link generator; and basic info about library liaisons and how I, the Emerging Technologies & Distance Services Librarian, can support online teaching.

It’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing. The Toolbox has been a conversation piece in multiple meetings I’ve been in, and whenever I unveil it, there’s definitely an ‘ooh!’ response to seeing a collection of useful resources prepackaged and offered on a single page. It’s not just a toolbox; it’s a gateway.

Goody bag + cave of wonders

The terminology I use is important. “Toolbox,” “goody bag,” “starter kit” — these are all phrases that call to mind a plethora of shiny items without being overbearing. There’s no “template” or even “guide” happening here; this is a partnership between the library and faculty, rather than a service or directive. And phrases like “generator” or “drag and drop” are derived from exciting action verbs that imply quickness and ease.

That intentional terminology is a response to one barrier to using library resources in online classes. It’s not that it’s difficult, per se, but it’s a bummer to have to scurry all over the library website(s) to gather teaching materials for students. By all means, that’s part of creating course curricula — but the simpler things, like linking to APA/MLA citation guides, should be easy as pie, and we make it so.

Lastly, the Toolbox can be a Cave of Wonders, too. So many faculty haven’t realized the richness of our streaming video collections. When I show it to them (or when they glance at the sample videos I linked to), a whole new world of engaging course content opens up.

Placement & promotion

The Faculty Toolbox is linked from our Faculty Resources list, where they can also find important information about citation metrics and purchase requests. It’s also linked from the John Jay Online faculty resources page, and it’s been emailed to all JJO instructors, too. And in the fall, I’ll be showing it off right and left at a number of workshops in different contexts — Faculty Development Day, Blackboard training workshops, and more.

Blackboard modules from the Library

Our Toolbox was inspired by the one at FIT, which was created by Helen Lane. She mentioned this at an ACRL/NY Distance Ed SIG last year, and it’s an excellent example. Take a look — she makes it so easy to embed many things.

What else would be appropriate to include in the Toolbox?

Updating the Murder Mystery Challenge library game

Previously: The Murder Mystery Challenge: a pilot project with an impressive turnout (2013)

murder mystery challenge

About the game

In the fall of 2013, my colleague Marta and I created and organized a Murder Mystery Challenge for first-year students, teaming up with the Peer Mentors in the Student Academic Success Programs here at John Jay. It was so successful that we did it again in fall 2014!

The Murder Mystery Challenge is designed to walk first-year students through basic research tasks. The Challenge follows a murder case narrative based on a real 1921 crime. Students work in teams to use historical resources in the library to solve the mystery.

Materials:

Updating the game

Based on student feedback in fall 2013, we made these changes:

  • murder mystery challenge packetPaper is more fun: Rather than a totally online activity that students met up in-person to complete, we put together file folders with a colorful printed packet, along with some “hint” materials, like a map of the library and our ubiquitous how-to-find-a-book bookmarks.
    • Using a paper packet felt more like completing a scavenger hunt than filling out an online form. And after all, most of their college assignments and syllabi are distributed on paper.
    • Reflecting most library research, many clues did instruct the students to find information online—but encouraged the students to take turns at the computer.
    • I created the nice-looking clues packet in Word, reusing images I’d made featuring photos in our Special Collections.
  • Smaller teams: Teams had 4-5 students last year, but some students felt left out because there wasn’t enough for everyone to do. So this time around, students worked in teams of 2-3, which created a more intimate and intense setting for team learning.
  • Points rubric: Previously, the team that submitted accurate answers the fastest won. But doing solid research isn’t about speed! It’s about being careful! So this time around, we assigned points to each question, and scored packets to determine the winners. (E.g., teams with 120 points won the top tier prizes, VIP lunch, $15 Amazon gift cards, $10 movie passes; teams with 110-115 points won the second tier of prizes; etc.)
  • students in the murder mystery challenge 2014Social media: One of the bonus questions instructed students to post photos of themselves with Lil Jay (a bobblehead of our namesake) on 1–5 social media accounts with the hashtags #jjcliljay, #jjcsleuths, and #jjcsasp, and to email screenshots to me. The photos were really wonderful — it’s always so wonderful to see young students having a lot of fun in the Stacks!

 

Student feedback

Murder Mystery Challenge promotional posterWe collected feedback from a survey sent out afterward. Here are some verbatim student responses.

How fun was the Murder Mystery Challenge? Average: 3.75/4 (1 = no fun, 4 = very fun)

How difficult was it? 3.24 out of 4 (1 = very difficult, 4 = very easy)

What did you learn?

  • I learned how to enhance my detective skills.
  • I learned how to navigate the library
  • How to look for articles in the John Jay library data base.
  • I learned how competitive my friends and I are when competing in a challenge.
  • I learned how to use the MLA citation
  • I learned how to do an APA citation. One of the bonus questions was to cite an article or book, I went to the John Jay library website and clicked the link on how to do citation.
  • That the locations are named reference and stacks, etc. also that you have to look up the books by call number

What would you change about the activity?

  • I would make the activity a tad bit more difficult and also make it school wide, not just the library.
  • Nothing, It was so fun!
  • Where things are hidden and how much information is given in the clues.
  • Nothing, overall it was a fun and educational experience, although I think having the challenge in the library might have possibly distracted other students at the library by peaking their curiosity as to what we were up to.
  • nothing, it was great!
  • One thing I would change about the activity is the fact that you have to post pictures on social media. That should have just been considered 2 extra points for just posting one picture
  • It was too short. I would add onto it
  • Nothing

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? The students wanted more work for this Murder Mystery Challenge!! I did very little reading about games and gamification when designing this, but from the little I’ve read, there’s a “sweet spot” all addicting games hit, when the amount of effort you’re putting forth in a game results in just the right amount of reward. So the sweet spot here seems to be a good balance of time spent on the Challenge, number of clues tracked down, and doing new and different tasks.

What’s next

In Fall 2015, we plan to stage the Murder Mystery Challenge for the third year running. We’re pretty happy with how the Challenge was revised, but we might incorporate using our new discovery service, OneSearch (Primo).

We’re also developing the Murder Mystery Challenge as an online-only activity wrapped up in a Blackboard quiz for online students who need a fun but educational introduction to doing library research online. We’ll have to remove finding a book in the stacks, and add one or two other online activities to make up for it. For this, we’re teaming up with our online learning office and instructional designers, which has been very fruitful for both parties.

I must say, this has been one of the most fun things I’ve done as a librarian! It was enjoyable to create a little mystery game using library resources only John Jay has, and it’s so rewarding to partner with other departments at the College — and to see students having a great time learning in the library.

For a little more on the Murder Mystery Challenge 2014, see the article I wrote for our department newsletter »

Bootstrapping an emergency library backup site

TL;DR: I Bootstrapped lib.jjay.cc, a Library backup site with the links to online resources, hosted on my personal webspace with an official-ish domain name.

Over this past weekend, the John Jay College network went down. It was pretty serious: no one off-campus could access the main College website for a while, and even when that went back up, the Library website was down for about half the weekend. Yikes!

I had done two very lucky things earlier in the month:

I’d bought jjay.cc on a whim. I’d proposed that the John Jay web department buy it as a shortlinker, and when they showed no interest, I bought it myself ($10, why not!) and have been using it as a way to shortlink Library content. (More on customizing Bit.ly later.) It looks official-ish, and no one has to know it’s on the same webspace as my other goofy websites.

I owe a shout-out to Val Forrestal, who once gave a talk at METRO about setting up an emergency library site after getting hacked. I’d always thought, hey, I should do that sometime, just in case. And then, on Saturday, the flurry of emails about the campus-wide network issues seemed dire, and it was time. So I whipped up the Lloyd Sealy Library Emergency Backup site at lib.jjay.cc:

library backup site screenshot

With a second page for the database A-Z list:

database a-z list

How I made the site

I made a basic Bootstrap template. “Bootstrapping” just means copying and pasting various parts of the Bootstrap framework. I used the navbar, panels, and tables. What’s nice is that everything is already styled and mobile-friendly. I only had to work on two HTML files.

The on-campus network was still functioning, thank goodness, so I VPN’d in to copy the HTML from the normal library site. No need to do anything new when all the code’s already done. EZproxy was also intermittently inaccessible, but luckily, students can also use their library barcodes to log into databases that CUNY subscribes to. We noted that fact on the backup site.

I use Dreamhost as my web host and domain registration service. I created a subdomain, lib.jjay.cc, and used my usual FTP login with Transmit to upload the files. I also uploaded a restrictive robots.txt file so that this backup site would never show up on Google.

It took me under an hour to set it up. We publicized the backup site on social media and got a few grateful responses. We were in touch with the John Jay webmaster about changing the link to the library on the main college site, in case IT told us the network issues would take much longer to resolve. In the end, we just waited it out. And now we’ve got a backup site, should anything go wrong with the network or our servers. (Knock on wood.)

Takeaways: make a stripped-down version of your library website and keep it somewhere safe, somewhere you can access it on- or off-campus. And if you don’t mind spending an extra $10/yr, it might be worth it to buy an official-looking but unofficial domain name, just in case.

Successful social media in our library + using Bit.ly

We’ve upped our social game this academic year since an inspiring LACUNY talk in September 2013. On our library’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we follow a schedule of Mug Shot Mondays and Throwback Thursdays (#tbt), with other posts peppered in between. #tbt has been super successful on Facebook, in terms of views and clicks, especially since the main college account often re-shares our posts.

Facebook insights screenshot
Facebook insights December 2013 to January 2014 (I took a 3-week break, hence sporadic posts).
Blue bar = clicks on content; pink bar = Likes, comments, and shares

Our posts have been genuine geek-outs (how cool are these old photos!), but they’ve also been diagnostics and test runs. The students don’t know it yet, but we’ll be leveraging the popularity of our weekly posts to promote our upcoming Digital Collections site and next year’s 50th Anniversary Exhibit. What works? What doesn’t work?

We’re realists — we know that our visual posts are probably one “oh, that’s cool” blip in our students’ Facebook feeds. But as optimists, we always include a relevant link (often in a subscription database) and a source link (to our Special Collections pages), with the hope that we’ll serendipitously inspire further research and interest in our unique materials.

A successful #tbt post
A successful Throwback Thursday post

Facebook’s insights page can give us a pretty good idea of whether people are clicking through to the links we provide. If the link goes to a page on our servers, Google Analytics will also record that click-through. But there’s one more way that I like to track the effectiveness of our links.

Using bit.ly to track success of social media posts

Bit.ly admin page
Bit.ly admin page

You can’t see it in the screenshot above, but Colonel Sandusky’s bio from the Facebook photo post got 5 clicks. The shortlink to our Archives page has 42 clicks total, from all of our Archives-related Facebook posts.

Three advantages of Bit.ly:

  • The shortlinks (e.g., bit.ly/jjpexp) look nice in short posts, especially compared to our enormous EZproxy links
  • If you need to include a long link on a poster or slide, a shortlink will make your viewers happy
  • With an account, you can see how often a bit.ly link has been clicked

Three drawbacks to Bit.ly:

  • You can’t export a spreadsheet, to my knowledge, so you’d have to cobble together data if you want a big-picture view. But for a quick peek, it works great
  • You can’t submit a link more than once. So our Archives link has 40+ clicks on 5+ posts
  • If you click on the link yourself, even from the admin view, that adds a click to your stats, giving you a distorted view

Two tips for using Bit.ly:

  • See the pencil next to the short link? That means you can customize the link! As you can see, ours in the above image are jjnewslet, jjdcpeek, jjhamby, and mapcrime. Much more human-friendly than something like 1Xoj5nW. (Please customize your shortlink if you’re putting it on a slide or poster!)
    bitly edit  Yikes! »»»  bitly edited  Much better.
  • Edit the link’s title and/or add a note on your admin view to remind yourself where/why each link is listed. Do this especially if your link has an EZproxy prefix, otherwise every link will be title “Log in with your xxxx username…”
    bitly edited entry

Drawing preliminary conclusions, even our most popular Facebook posts don’t bring in many click-throughs. A little disappointing, but that’s to be expected. People use Facebook when they want to be distracted and scroll quickly through brief diversions, not necessarily when they want to dive deeply into a topic.

Views and clicks are only one measure of success in social media. These numbers are the easiest to track and give the quickest gratification after the effort you put in. But true outreach means increased use and improved perception of the library, which is much harder to quantify at a granular level. (Suggestions?)

I’ll keep updating with other tales and tips for success in social media in our library. Other tips and examples are welcome!