Category: Teaching

GoSoapbox for library class sessions

Snapshot of a poll: "What are you most excited to learn about today?" "How the library can save me money on textbooks, the quiet study area, and other options"
Screenshot of a GoSoapbox poll (results below)

I’ve spent the last year experimenting with incorporating active learning practices into my library “one-shot” sessions (so-called because you have one shot to cover all the library research basics college students will need for the next 4 years) (I am not throwing away my [one] shot). So far, my biggest success has been adapting Heads Up! for the classroom, which starts the class off with high energy and big laughs — plus totally connects to the concept of keywords. But it’s an activity for extroverts, so to balance it out, I went looking for a way to bring the introverts into participatory activities, too.

Classroom “clickers” are a solid way of encouraging participation from those who’d rather not speak up in class. Clickers are simple handheld devices that let students vote anonymously in polls whose results appear in real time on the screen. Big science classes often use them at my institution. Our library has a full set of clickers — but unfortunately, the PowerPoint plugin did not work on my Mac. Even if it had, it would have required a lot of setup.

Welcome! Please open two tabs: library website and, with code xxx-xxx-xxx. Use your real name or nickname
The slide on the screen when the class walks in

So I was super happy to find GoSoapbox, a web-based clicker alternative, plus more. It’s ideal for classroom labs, where every student is at their own computer. Free instructor accounts are limited to classes of 30 students or fewer. Instructors can make multiple classes (“events”). These events are saved under the instructor’s account and can be accessed again later.

See my slide to the right, which is on the board when students trickle in before class starts. They must sign in at with an access code, e.g., 438-623-406, and enter their name or nickname. (You can log into that event yourself to try out how it works from a student POV.) I also put login info in small text on students’ handouts for latecomers or those who closed their tab accidentally. Edit: there’s an even easier way to get students into the event. See Advanced Features at the bottom of this post.

Things you can do in a library class using GoSoapbox

Followed by actual results from my library one-shots


  • Multiple-choice questions (no multiple-answer selections)
  • Results displayed as bar or pie chart; optionally visible in aggregate to all students
  • Good way to open the session to get a reading of the class and what they expect from you/the library
  • Instructors can email results to themselves


  • Freeform text field visible to everybody in real-time
  • Useful for crowdsourcing keywords on a common research question; they can access this keyword list in class and afterward (put the URL on their handout)
  • My colleague, Marta, uses this as a knowledge checkpoint. For instance, she’ll put up an example research question and ask them what the keywords in the question are. They submit almost identical answers immediately, and she displays the results on the screen
  • Instructors can email results to themselves


  • Results visible individually to students, and in aggregate as an Excel download to instructor (results cannot be viewed in real-time by the instructor though, I think, weirdly)
  • I haven’t used this; I keep one up “locked” (hidden from view) but ready to go in case I miraculously have 10 extra minutes

Confusion barometer

  • Results are visible in real-time on instructor’s dashboard, e.g., 2 of 24 students are confused right now
  • I haven’t had any students actually use this, though

Social Q&A (off by default; turn on in Moderate This Event » Enable/Disable Features)

  • Students can ask and add answers to questions; they can also upvote questions they like
  • I haven’t used this yet

Psst… Save time

You can copy events — that is, you can copy over all the polls and discussion Qs into a new event for a fresh class.

Examples from my classes

Confusion barometer: I am getting it or I am not getting it. Polls: Question 1 and Question 2.
What students see when they log in (I gave my poll questions generic titles, but they don’t have be so bland)

Most students want to know how the library can save them money on textbooks. They also want to know about streaming movies, books to checkout, and a free NYT account
Poll results in response to the question: “What are you most excited to learn about today?” This lets me tailor what I cover, and it gives students a preview of the more exciting aspects of their college library.

59% a few times, 23% often, 18% never
Poll in response to the question, “How often do you use your local public library?” (n=22)

Discussion about a class research question that their prof emailed me ahead of time. This was a prelude to searching databases using a “mix and match” method utilizing compiled keywords. I gave this brilliant class 5 minutes, and their keyword lists were quite long and very good! I was blown away. (They each had their own take on the policy question, but it was still useful to them to think about concepts their classmates brought up.)

Edited August 31, 2016 to add…

Advanced features

Toggling display

Under Moderate This event » Enable and Disable Features, you have the option to turn on and off some things:

Some features are toggled: Barometer, Off. Names required, Off. Discussions, On.

I usually only turn on polls and discussions. I turn off Names Required so students feel freer to participate. And it’s a college class, so I turn off Profanity Filter, too, especially since some students are researching things like sex work policy.

Making access easier

Under Moderate This Event » Change Event Details, you can customize the access code:

Access code: "library love"

…But you can also do away with an access code altogether! The event URL, minus “/#!/dashboard”, gives anyone instant access to your event. So for instance, I could email students this URL:

Or I could post a shortlink on the board, like so:

Bitly lets you customize what comes after the slash, as long as it’s a URL that hasn’t been taken yet. I think this is the easiest way to pop students into your event, without having to fiddle with access codes and so on.

Do you use GoSoapbox? What are some other ways a library one-shot could use polls and discussions?

Heads Up! in PowerPoint for library class sessions

Since my John Jay colleague Kathleen Collins wrote about using active learning strategies in library “one-shot” sessions, I’ve been experimenting with games and hands-on activities to keep students engaged in the material. Typically, I cover library research basics in the sessions I teach: breaking a research question down into keywords (this is hard for freshmen!) and finding books/articles.

I frequently refer to “Don’t Do Their Work: Active Learning and Database Instruction,” a fantastic article in LOEX by Jennifer Sterling, which covers different active-learning activities she uses in her classroom. One in particular has been a breakout success for my own teaching.

Heads Up! is an iOS/Android app from Ellen DeGeneres (et al.) based on the old game Password, wherein the player who’s “it” must guess a word they can’t see based on hints from their teammates. It’s a great way to get students thinking about synonyms and related words for keywords, and it absolutely starts the class session off with a high energy level.

Because this is happening in the library classroom, I have adapted Heads Up! for a PowerPoint presentation. It’s a little hokey — it’s just a list of words that appear on-click next to a one-minute timer gif. Two volunteers from each side of the room stand in front of the projector screen so they can’t see the words, but their teammates can.

heads up in the library

Download my PowerPoint slides for adapted Heads Up! (adapt further and reuse freely) »
(This version includes different timer gifs on each page. I did this because sometimes Powerpoint glitches out when “restarting” the same gif on a different page.)

I ask for 2 volunteers from each side of the room. Both volunteers can guess when it’s their team’s turn (so that they don’t feel so alone at the front of the room, especially when they’re not doing well). Both teams get 2 rounds, meaning the game lasts around 4 minutes total (plus some banter in between). Usually, students get between 2 and 7 words. Note that these are general words, not library-y words. Something easy and low-barrier to engage students from the get-go. So far, my favorite moment has been for the keyword “Chiptole,” for which half the classroom devolved into students shouting “Bowl! Bowl! BOWL! BOWL!” at their flustered classmate. (“Cereal? Spoon? Plate? Salad?? Soup??”) Probably the most laughter that’s ever occurred on my watch.

I swear by this activity! Students absolutely get the connection between Heads Up! and the next part of my presentation, in which they pick keywords out of their actual research questions and find synonyms and related words, then trade worksheets with a classmate. (Warn them about trading ahead of time, if you’re going to ask them to do this.) This keyword-gathering activity, too, is inspired by that LOEX article.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 3.01.56 PM

Download “Keywords” Word Document (adapt and reuse freely) »

Let me know if you use these or other active-learning approaches in your library classes. I’m always looking for fun ways to engage undergrads in the library curriculum.

Update (added August 12, 2016): I updated the slides. Also, there aren’t many 1-minute countdown gifs out there, so I made some in black and white, below. They’re set to run through the animation only once, so don’t worry if they’re all “00,” just download the gif.

one minute countdown timer gifone minute countdown timer gif

one minute countdown timer gifone minute timer countdown gif