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Melanie Sellar

On the second day of the ACRL 2013 Conference, we had the great pleasure of having lunch with Melanie Sellar. Melanie is currently the Education Services Librarian at Marymount College in Los Angeles.

During the ACRL Conference, Melanie was leading a session titled, “Visible Thinking: Using Course-Integrated Research Narratives to Engage Students and Assess Learning.” We invited her to lunch so we could hear more about her session and understand the value of research narratives in information literacy instruction.

Below is the Q and A portion of our lunch with Melanie:

Project SAILS: Please introduce yourself!

Melanie: I am the Education Services Librarian at Marymount College in Los Angeles. I grew up and attended college in Canada (a BA in linguistics from McMaster University, an MA in linguistics from the University of Ottawa, and an MLIS from the University of Western Ontario.) Before being hired at Marymount College, I was the Community Outreach Librarian and later the e-Learning and Instructional Design Librarian at the University of California, Irvine. I am also very proud to say that I founded Librarians Without Borders and now serve as the Co-Executive Director.

Project SAILS: What did you cover in your session?

Melanie: The main focus of my session was to introduce the theory behind research narratives, which stems from composition scholarship, and to show the research narratives in application at two institutions (University of Louisville and Marymount College).

Project SAILS: What are research narratives?

Melanie: Research narratives, which are also often called information literacy narratives, are an assessment and pedagogical tool that allow insight into student thinking by asking students to tell the story of their research experience. These narratives are heavily focused on a student’s thinking pattern or thought process compared to knowing the right answers – which is different than most tests and citation analysis tools. Another important focus of narratives is reflection. Students are asked to provide a step-by-step account of their research process, including a reflection on the difficulties/challenges they experienced. Students then create a first-person story detailing their research which positions them as expert on that experience.

Project SAILS: What do research narratives accomplish?

Melanie: An important outcome of using research narratives is that they provide a window into student thinking, giving faculty and librarians insight into the critical thinking skills of students. Research narratives also provide the “Why” behind research papers and answer questions like:

  • Why did the student select and cite this source?
  • Did the professor tell them to use a certain source or is this something the student chose to do on their own?
  • Did the student struggle finding sources? Why?

Research narratives also allow students to select what they thought was important to include in the description of their research process, while also showing the things students didn’t think were important enough to include.

Overall, research narratives provide a powerful tool for impacting teacher and librarian practice because we can have a better understanding of a student’s research paper when paired with the research narrative. As a result of seeing into a student’s research process we are able to better understand where the students are on the information literacy skill development continuum, and where further support and instruction is needed. We should use tools like research narratives to impact the way we are teaching, instead of simply deflecting the blame on students.

Project SAILS: What are the downsides to using research narratives?

Melanie: I think it’s important to acknowledge that research narratives do require more time to assess than, for example, grading a quiz.

It’s best to read many narratives at one time in order to better understand the data in light of other students’ responses. It does take time to read through each narrative and make meaning of the data, but the time is well worth it to really understand the information literacy skills of our students.

Research narratives also require collaboration with faculty, in terms of designing a prompt and potentially creating a rubric. Faculty that include the research narrative as part of the assignment need to provide copies of the research narratives to librarians for our own assessment. This “hurdle” is getting much easier with learning management systems, like Blackboard, where faculty can simply grant access for librarians to the student research papers submitted within these programs.

Lastly, students do not expose everything about their research process, but we are learning about what is most important to them, as selected by them.

Project SAILS: How have faculty responded to using research narratives?

Melanie: Research narratives have had a significant impact on our faculty’s classroom practices because they have been able to illuminate the research skills, behaviours, and attitudes of our freshmen.  Some results include:

  • Faculty are putting themselves in the mind of a novice researcher and adjusting their teaching practices and curriculum to their level of knowledge.
  • Faculty across the disciplines are becoming more aware of the shared responsibility to teach research skills.
  • Sparked conversations about teaching information literacy skills over the course of a student’s college career, not just in a Freshman English composition course.
  • More impactful integration of librarians in courses.

For more on how faculty are seeing the value of information literacy narratives, I interviewed a faculty member of one of our Freshman Composition courses.

Project SAILS: Are there other applications of research narratives?

Melanie: Yes, another important application for research narratives is use as a longitudinal assessment across a student’s time in college. Looking longitudinally at a student’s research narratives, year after year, may allow us to see if their thinking has changed over the time and how their information literacy skills are developing.

We really enjoyed meeting Melanie and hearing how she is using research narratives at her institution. We are planning to add resources specific to research narratives to our blog in the coming months, as we see the benefit of using a multiple-choice IL assessment (like Project SAILS) along with a research narrative. Using the two in tandem will allow faculty and librarians to understand information literacy proficiencies of their students, while also understanding the thinking process students are using during research.

Melanie’s Prezi from her session at ACRL can be viewed below:

You can also connect with Melanie on LinkedIn, learn more about her work with Librarians Without Borders, follow her on Twitter, or contact her for more information about using research narratives at your institution.

ACRL 2013 had a large number of sessions specific to information literacy.

We sat down with the presenter from one of these sessions, Brooke Gilmore, to hear more about the things she covered in her session titled, “Impact of AAC&U’s Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Initiative on Information Literacy Programs.” Brooke presented this session along with co-investigator Elizabeth Dolinger from Keene State College.

Brooke is an Information Literacy Librarian at Southern New Hampshire University. She has been investigating the impact of the LEAP initiative on information literacy instruction programs at universities across the country, since the AAC&U included information literacy as one of its essential learning outcomes.

You can also follow Brooke on Twitter, contact her to talk more about what your “LEAP school” is doing in regard to information literacy instruction, or email her at!

On April 8, 2013 Credo Reference released the results of a survey they conducted on the information literacy skills of students from more than 400 institutions. Credo also shared these results at a breakfast discussion during the ACRL 2013 conference.

We spoke with Laura Miller, a marketing manager/analyst at Credo, to learn more about the findings from their survey.

Want more information about the survey results?

You can sign-up here to receive the results or visit Credo’s website to view the infographic shown in the video above, along with a video they created on the survey and its key findings. You can also follow Credo on Twitter to hear of other great resources they are sharing related to information literacy.

Project SAILS is attending ACRL 2013. Are you?

If you are, then you should consider attending one of the many sessions focused on information literacy and assessment. Below is a list of programs that caught my eye as I scoured the conference program. I plan to attend as many of them as possible but will also be busy talking with visitors to our booth. I hope to see you at Booth 1320. Get a jump on the crowds and schedule a time to meet with me.

I intended this list to focus on assessment, but I just couldn’t help highlighting other programs that sound amazing and innovative. Click on the program title to see more information on the ACRL conference website. You can also plan the sessions you will attend with ACRL’s easy “My Planner” tool.

(Note, I did not include any of the free workshops here – they are filling up so fast and I didn't want you to be disappointed if you didn’t get a spot.)

Enjoy! And hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Questioning Authority: Standard Three and the Critical Classroom
Emily Drabinski, Reference and Instruction Librarian, LIU Brooklyn
Jenna Freedman, Barnard College
Lia Friedman, Director of Learning Services, UC San Diego Library

The One-Shot Mixtape: Lessons for Planning, Delivering, and Integrating Instruction
Megan Oakleaf, Assoc. Professor, Syracuse Univ.
Steven Hoover, Senior Asst. Librarian, Syracuse Univ.
Jennifer Corbin, Head, Center for Library User Education, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane Univ.
Debra Gilchrist, Vice President, Learning and Student Success, Pierce College
Randy Hensley, Head of Instruction, Baruch College
Christopher Hollister, Assoc. Librarian, Univ. at Buffalo
Michelle Millet, Library Director, John Carroll Univ.
Beth Woodard, Assoc. Professor, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Disciplinary Literacy in First-Year Writing Courses: A Collaborative Context For Critical Information Literacy Instruction
Sara D. Miller, Head of Information Literacy, Michigan State Univ. Libraries
Nancy C. DeJoy, Assoc. Professor, Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures, Michigan State Univ.
Benjamin M. Oberdick, Information Literacy Librarian, Michigan State Univ.

Pilot Study Examining Student Learning Gains Using Online Information Literacy Modules
Corinne Bishop, Information Literacy Librarian, Univ. of Central Florida
Francisca Yonekura, Asst. Department Head, Center for Distributed Learning, Univ. of Central Florida
Patsy Moskal, Assoc. Director, Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness, Univ. of Central Florida

Embracing ‘Troublesome Knowledge’: Information Literacy Threshold Concepts in the Natural Sciences
Alison Ricker, Science Librarian, Oberlin College
Moriana Garcia, Natural Sciences Liaison Librarian, Denison Univ.
Deborah Carter Peoples, Science Librarian, Ohio Wesleyan Univ.

Making IL Relevant: Inspiring Student Engagement through Faculty-Librarian Collaboration
Meggan Smith, Reference & Instruction Librarian, Gettysburg College
Kayla Lenkner, Reference & Instruction Librarian, Gettysburg College
Amy Dailey, Asst. Professor, Health Sciences, Gettysburg College
Kelly Ruffini, Class of 2013, Gettysburg College

Visible Thinking: Using Course-Integrated Research Narratives to Engage Students and Assess Learning
Melanie Sellar, Education Services Librarian and Asst. Professor, Information Literacy, Marymount College
Robert Detmering, Asst. Professor and Teaching & Reference Librarian, Univ. of Louisville
Anna Marie Johnson, Assoc. Professor and Head, Reference and Information Literacy Dept., Univ. of Louisville

Project Information Literacy: What Can Be Learned about the Information-Seeking Behavior of Today's College Students?
Alison Head - Executive Director, Project Information Literacy

Impact of AAC&U’s Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Initiative on Information Literacy Programs
Elizabeth Dolinger, Information Literacy Librarian, Mason Library
Brooke Gilmore, Information Literacy Librarian, Southern New Hampshire Univ.

What’s in a Name?: Information Literacy, Metaliteracy, or Transliteracy
Trudi Jacobson, Head, Information Literacy Department, Univ. at Albany
Thomas Mackey, Dean, Center for Distance Learning, SUNY Empire State College

The ERIAL Project:  Findings, Ideas and Tools to Advance Your Library
David Green - Assoc. University Librarian for Collections and Information Services, Northeastern Illinois Univ. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Becoming Catalysts in Exceptional Research and Learning: The Intersections of Information Literacy and Scholarly Communication
Erin Ellis, Head of Instructional Services, Univ. of Kansas
Joyce Ogburn, Univ. of Utah
Kevin Smith, Duke University

Creating a Culture of Assessment: Determinants of Success
Meredith Farkas, Head of Instructional Services, Portland State Univ.
Lisa Hinchliffe, Coordinator of Instruction and Information Literacy Services, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Amy Harris Houk, Information Literacy Program Coordinator and Reference Librarian, Univ. of North Carolina at Greensboro

Feeling our way: Emotional intelligence and information literacy competency
Miriam Matteson, Asst. Professor, Kent State Univ. - School of Library and Information Science, Columbus, OH
Omer Farooq, Student, Kent State Univ., Columbus, OH

Methods Behind the Instructional Madness: Assessing and Enhancing Learning through Portfolios, Mapping and Rubrics.
Natalie Tagge, Instruction Librarian, Claremont Colleges
Sean Stone, Science Librarian, Claremont Colleges
Char Booth, Instruction Services Manager & E-Learning Librarian, Claremont Colleges

“How is this different from critical thinking?”: The risks and rewards of deepening faculty involvement in an information literacy rubric.
Danya Leebaw, Reference and Instruction Librarian for Social Sciences, Carleton College
Kristin Partlo, Reference & Instruction Librarian for Social Sciences & Data, Carleton College
Heather Tompkins, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Carleton College

Becoming A Campus Assessment Leader: Collaborating for campus wide IL assessment
Larissa Gordon, Reference Librarian, Arcadia Univ.

Just-in-time Instruction, Regular Reflection, and Integrated Assessment: A Sustainable Model for Student Growth
Jill Gremmels, Leland M. Park Director of the Davidson College Library
Shireen Campbell, Professor of English, Davidson College

Caught In The Act: Video Classroom Observation
Anne Deutsch, Librarian, SUNY at New Paltz - Sojurner Truth Library
Brooks Doherty, Dean, General Education, Rasmussen College

Quest for Engagement: Innovative Library Instruction with Games-Based Learning
Maura Smale, Assoc. Professor, Information Literacy Librarian, New York City College of Technology, CUNY
Mary Snyder Broussard, Instructional Services Librarian, Lycoming College
Scott Rice, Digital Initiatives and Emerging Technologies Librarian, Appalachian State Univ. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Answering 'how' and 'why' questions of library impact on undergraduate student learning
Derek Rodriguez, Principal Investigator, The Understanding Library Impacts Project

Choosing and Using Assessment Management Systems: What Librarians Need to Know
Jackie Belanger, Research and Instruction Librarian/Assessment Coordinator, Univ. of Washington Bothell/Cascadia Community College
Megan Oakleaf, Assoc. Professor, Syracuse Univ.

Imagining the Future of Library Instruction: How Feminist Pedagogy Can Transform the Way You Teach and How Students Learn
Maria T. Accardi, Coordinator of Instruction, Indiana Univ. Southeast
Emily Drabinski, Reference and Instruction Librarian, LIU Brooklyn
Alana Kumbier, Reference Librarian, Wellesley College

Building an Instruction Arsenal: Using Standardized Elements to Streamline Class Planning and Ease Student Learning Assessment Across the Curriculum.
Kevin Seeber, Library Instruction Coordinator, Colorado State Univ.-Pueblo
Jessica Critten, First Year Programs Librarian, Univ. of West Georgia


And, Or, Not . . . three important words for searching success.

These three words form the basis of Boolean logic and help students more efficiently search through the complicated world of information and find resources specific to their academic needs.

We have heard many instruction librarians discussing the difficulty of keeping students engaged once the “B” word is introduced in a session. Should the “B” word be avoided altogether? Should new methods be used to teach students about Boolean?

We think instruction on Boolean should continue to be emphasized when teaching students how to search and locate information. After all, Boolean is included in the ACRL information competency standards and the “searching” portion of the Project SAILS skills sets. But maybe there are better ways to cover this topic. One option is a free tool called Boolify.

Boolify presents Boolean logic in a fun and graphical way to show students the usefulness of applying Boolean search operators when looking for resources with the Google search engine. Though it was designed specifically for K-12, we think there are many advantages to using it within higher education settings, including:

  • Great for the hands-on learners in your courses
  • Clearly illustrates the usefulness of using Boolean operators
  • Though specific to Google, college students can apply the concepts to research databases
  • The interactive nature of the tool gives students the flexibility to continue refining their search based on the results provided
  • Identifies the logic behind research and uses this logic to improve research skills

But the thing we like most about Boolify is that it covers a very important skill set within information literacy in a practical and easy-to-understand manner. The key is that Boolify is focused on the end goal, which is to teach information literacy skills in a way college students can understand and retain.

In addition to the free Boolify tool, the site also offers lesson plans for teaching information literacy to your students.

Give Boolify a look and consider whether you can use it in your instruction.