I’m so sorry I missed this one over the summer. We moved schools (and countries) to Blanchelande College on Guernsey which was quite an upheaval and took a lot of time and energy! It may be a bit late for you now, but in the next week or two I will post some more specific detail about what we did in each of our seminars in case that is helpful to you or to someone else in this situation. Broadley though you can see the content of each session on our LibGuide (check the Seminar 1 tab, for example. You can access the tab for each seminar either from the dropdown menu on the Seminars and Workshops tab at the top of that page, or by using the ‘Next’ button at the bottom of that page). You won’t be able to access the videos (which are on SharePoint) but you should be able to see the slides (Which are on Slide Share). I’m currently struggling with my internet connection and can’t see all the slides in that presentation on the LibGuide site for some reason, so will try to post some more stable links for you at some point as well. Be aware that at points where I mentioned the LibGuide in the presentation I usually then dropped out of PowerPoint and did a ‘live’ tour of whichever section of the guide I was discussing.
In answer to your question about FOSIL, the majority of our IB students were a new intake into Year 12 so I did not assume any prior knowledge of the cycle from lower down. The whole of Year 12 (IB and A-Level) had a short introduction to FOSIL during their induction days, but this was quite brief. While there wasn’t time to dwell too much on the cycle in isolation during the EE seminars, we always started with an overview and made it clear when we were stepping between stages (a simple transition slide in a presentation is often enough there). There was also a tab on the LibGuide giving more detail about the inquiry process for those who wanted to explore it. I think the most important feature of the guide and accompanying resources was the FOSIL colour coding as it helped to locate students in the cycle whether they were new to it or not. Whether or not you have an online space like a LibGuide for EE students, consistent use of colour coding and mention of the cycle in your presentations and resources can help locate them, and also makes FOSIL an integral part of the process rather than something that is just mentioned at the beginning and then forgotten. Students then learn to internalise the cycle by working through it rather than being told about it. Another important aspect is that FOSIL is both important for the students, but also for you in your planning and understanding of the inquiry process. The end goal is clearly for them to be able to internalise, understand and use the inquiry process rather than to ‘name the stages in the FOSIL cycle’.
I’m not sure if that rambling is helpful, but I am short on time this morning and wanted to make sure I had made a (very belated) start on answering your question. I will return to it as soon as I can….
We have recently made some progress in terms of expanding our Library support for the EPQ. Chris, our Head of Student Research, already does a great job of supporting and supervising all the EPQ students and has for many years but, compared with the IB Extended Essay, the Library has not historically provided any coordinated support. As the cohort has grown in recent years Chris and I have been discussing for some time how we could best collaborate to support the students. As a result I have put together a new EPQ LibGuide, which gives students central access to all the resources they need and guidance on the structure of an inquiry.
Something I have discovered as I have worked with our guides (and I would imagine this is very similar using other online platforms such as VLEs) is the importance of creating central guides/resource collections that are useful for large groups of students (e.g. in this case Upper School students) and then linking to them from other more subject/topic specific guides rather than dispersing that information throughout the system. This both saves lots of time because you aren’t always reinventing the wheel but also, critically, makes it easier to keep the resources up to date. It seems so obvious now, but when I started this journey I had a lot to learn about making a connected, easy to navigate and maintain online space (and I still have a long way to go!). It is very easy to focus too hard on making a site or collection as easy as possible for users to navigate OR as easy as possible for creators to maintain without considering both these needs together. And if I set something up in a hurry both these needs can go out of the window in favour of the immediate need to get something up quickly that does the job – and I always regret that later!
My involvement with EPQs has been very indirect compared with IB EEs and this EPQ guide is very much a first effort and will certainly evolve over time. All constructive criticism and advice welcome.
This is also a good opportunity to look in a bit more detail than I did last year at the LibGuide that supports the inquiry, which was one factor that made it very easy to deliver online at fairly short notice. The guide has four main tabs:
1. A basic introduction to the topic
2. An introduction to the debate “This house believes that …. is a successful pressure group”, with note taking resources, search tips and advice on determining whether a source is appropriate (CRAAP testing). Students search for their own resources about their group, so this is the point in the inquiry most suited to developing information search and evaluation skills.
3. An introduction to the Orwell Youth Prize, explaining what students need to produce, giving information about the prize itself and giving students the resources they need both to plan their own articles and to work with other’s articles. The emphasis in this part of the inquiry is working with information and using it to develop arguments. To save time, students are not expected to find any of their own sources.
4. The last tab is actually a cluster of four – one for each type of pressure group looked at in this stage. Students are assigned to one type of group and then use the work of others to learn about the other types. These tabs have links to a carefully collated set of articles designed to allow students to critically evaluate the groups in question.
An important part of the presentation of the resources is the modelling of a very basic level of resource evaluation to encourage students to think about the source of their information as a matter of course.
I think this kind of modelling is very important – as Librarians we are very used to providing curated sets of ‘trustworthy’ resources, but a step towards educating our students to locate such resources for themselves is explaining (in a relatively unobtrusive way) the merits and limitations of the resources we have curated.
This very successful inquiry is about to run again for the third year. The joy of running something like this over a number of years is that it gets better every time AND the effort required to make it better becomes less. Last year’s adaptions proved very successful (as I am sure Joe will comment on later. I wasn’t involved in the delivery last year due to the COVID situation) so this year all we have needed to do is tweak the final task. The Orwell Youth Prize changes its focus every year. Last year it was “The future we want” and this year it is “A new direction: starting small”, which will work just as well as a vehicle for critiquing Pressure Groups of various kinds – I just needed to update the resources to reflect the new title and prize deadlines.
Joe asked me the challenging question “If you could improve one aspect of [the inquiry], what would it be?”. I think in one sense I am both too close to it (in terms of working on the resources) and too far removed from it (in terms of not having seen it in action last year) to make an informed comment at this stage. I am very happy with it as it is! However, in an ideal world (without the demands of the rest of the syllabus to contend with) I think the only change I would make is to move it slightly earlier in the year so that students who really wanted to would have enough time to work on a genuine entry for the Orwell Youth Prize before the ‘feedback deadline’ of April 26th (rather than just about being able to make the final deadline of June 4th). This is small criticism though of a tightly planned three week inquiry unit designed from scratch to guide students through an important unit of A level work – and one that worked just as successfully last year online as it had in the classroom and we are hoping will do so again this year in a potentially hybrid situation.
We are delighted that Sally has kindly allowed us to add her excellent “Scientifically speaking” FOSIL workbook for her Science in the Media Year 7 inquiry to the FOSIL Group Resources section. We can’t add Publisher documents to that section so only the PDF is available there, but she has asked me to make the Publisher version available here via the forum too, which makes it easier to edit should you wish to. As with all the resources on the site, this is made available under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 ), so please do credit Sally if you reuse her work.
A really interesting discussion here about the CRAAP test – and Elizabeth’s link to Getting beyond the CRAAP test is well worth following however I would say that the issue that both Mike Cauldfield and John Royce have with the CRAAP test is not the idea itself, more the way it is taught and presented. Yes, it can be presented as a mindless list of a million things to check off a list before you can use a website, and no, that isn’t helpful. Particularly if, as Mike says, in The problem with the checklist approach you ask students to look for outdated things like how professional a site looks, whether there are spelling errors and how many ads there are, or if you dwell too much on the importance of the domain name. His SIFT approach does look really interesting, and it is fantastic that he has provided all the materials under Creative Commons (we’re big fans of that here!) – but it is largely asking students to do the same thing as the CRAAP test, just presented in a different way. What are they looking for under “Investigate the source” if it isn’t some sense of:
Is this Current?
Is it Relevant to my inquiry?
Does it seem to be reasonably Accurate? (How do I know? Have I checked it against other sources? Does anything about the claims feel odd?)
Does the writer/site have any Authority to make this claim? (How do I know? Have I checked their general reputation, not just the qualifications they claim to have?)
What is the Purpose of this story? (What are they trying to convince me of and why? Everyone is selling something!)
Having said that, I will be having a good look at the Check please site, because I think there is a lot there that could be really helpful (even if I choose to combine it with CRAAP). Thanks Elizabeth!
I think Mike is absolutely right that it is easy for students to get overloaded, and as such I tend to go for a ‘light touch CRAAP test’. Rather than mechanically go through the motions of the whole list, I would encourage students to focus on the area they think is most important for that source. As Barbara says, Authority and Purpose are pretty much non-negotiable. Currency and Relevance are very quick (if it isn’t relevant, there is no point continuing with the rest!), and Accuracy is often tied up with Authority.
There are many ways to teach source evaluation, and all of them have advantages and disadvantages, but what we are actually teaching students is a sense of healthy suspicion. Does it seem too good to be true? Does something seem a bit odd? Does it tie up with what you knew already? Then giving them the tools to follow up their suspicions. It doesn’t have to be very time-consuming if you start with reasonably reputable sources – but they need guidance on where to find reasonably reputable sources and what they ‘feel ‘ like. And we need to talk honestly and non-judgementally about Wikipedia. What is it good for? What isn’t it good for? Why do you need to be careful with it? (This is part of a presentation we use on this topic occasionally).
“The CRAAP approach assumes that students need to learn, for example, that authority on a subject matters, that funding matters, that conflicts of interest matter, and asserts if we train students in a twenty minute catechism that reviews these issues each time they’ll make better decisions. The reality is checklist or no checklist we know most of these issues when we see them.Most people get intuitively that Russian state media is not be the best source on whether Russia was involved with the downing of MH17. The difference between the professional fact-checker and the student is a set of digital habits that quickly reveal that RT is a Russian propaganda arm, or that a particular naturopathic cancer center has a reputation for quackery. The gap isn’t the understanding, it’s the missing context.”
I do actually disagree with him here (and this may be because I am mostly working with younger students). Many of our students don’t have a good understanding of authority (which is why Wikipedia can be a problem – because they don’t really understand, or sometimes care, what they are dealing with). They also aren’t great at realising that all of the sources that they read have an agenda of some kind and that they need to be alert to that. I’m not convinced that many untrained high school students would automatically have a problem with a Russian state media source giving information about the downing of MH17. Particularly if they were new to the story and didn’t really understand the agendas involved. Yes, the gap is the missing context, but that context needs to be taught and the CRAAP test is one way to do that (as is SIFT). And it doesn’t have to be taught as a 20 minute checklist.
In that sense (and I don’t find myself saying this very often!) I am with Professor E. D. Hirsch (a well-known opponent of Inquiry Learning) – we cannot treat children as if they have the same level of social and cultural literacy that adults have. Where Professor Hirsch and I deviate, as far as I understand it, is that he feels that this means that inquiry is an unsuitable way for young people to acquire new understanding, where as I believe that it means that we need to give them tools and support to do what an expert would do automatically. We need to give them a scaffolding that can drop away once they fully grasp the underlying skills and concepts.
I have used this presentation and accompanying resources to teach the CRAAP test to both Year 9 and Year 12. An important point about it is that the Breitbart article on which it is based is a very well-written, well-presented article – and they have largely not heard of Breitbart (a highly questionable, very right-wing US media outlet). The key here is getting them to spend a few minutes looking for information about the organisation and the article outside the original site (a vital point that I picked up very strongly from John Royce’s article) before reading too deeply. The other key point is to give them some useful tools to help them to check the leanings of unknown sites (such as https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ ). Those of us from the UK, for example, know that The Daily Mail is a right wing tabloid, prone to hyperbole, often inaccurate and downright misleading, whereas The Times is a broadsheet that is right-centre in tone but largely accurate in its reporting. Do our students know that? Or do they just think that we would prefer them to read the Times because the Mail is a bit gossipy and more ‘fun’? Do many adults realise quite how misleading the Mail can be, and how dangerous a news diet based a single media source is, particularly one like this? It is a national paper, after all. We need to be giving students practical tools like Media bias/Fact check, and keeping pace with change. This is a good tool now – just as domain names were a good tool 15 years ago. In 10 years time, I’m sure we will need different tools to support something like the CRAAP test. But that doesn’t mean the test itself is a bad one.
As Stephanie says – let’s teach them not to judge a book by its cover. But then we do need to give them some other criteria to judge it by, given the whole point is that their ‘gut feel’ is not yet well-developed.
P.S 1: after looking at the Breitbart article with Year 12, one student was quite aggrieved that it got such a low score. He said “But they’ve worked so hard to make it look good. Don’t they deserve some credit for that?”. Perhaps that is an argument for doing away with the scoring aspect of CRAAP. We aren’t giving the sites a mark for effort – we’re looking at whether they are suitable sources to use in our work!
P.S. 2: the Times/Mail discussion is another powerful argument for promoting reading and literacy (digital or otherwise) in our schools generally. One of the startling facts that Alice Visser-Furay highlighted in her excellent presentation for CILIP SLG in July 2020 (also available from her website, Reading for Pleasure and Progress) was that the average reading age of an article in the Sun (UK tabloid) was 8 years old, while for the Guardian (UK broadsheet) it was 14 years old. There is a social imperative to make sure that the next generation of the voting public have the literacy skills (and inclination) to get their news from reputable sources.
Barbara’s chapter has so much to explore that it is difficult to know where to stop, but my last comments (for now!) relate to source evaluation. This has always been an important part of our job as Librarians, however, as Stephanie says, the access to resources that students now have through the internet means that it is not enough for us to curate resources for students, they need to be able to evaluate them for themselves. This has long been a staple of Information Literacy teaching and is one of the many skills that Librarians continue to deliver, support and develop through inquiry.
We use the CRAAP test*with our students, and one of the complaints they often make is “but that will take too much time” – and that is part of the point. While it is very important to evaluate all the sources you use, this is especially important and particularly time consuming for sources from the free internet. While we don’t want to make the task so onerous that they don’t bother, equally there is no point making a very superficial evaluation of a website. That just promotes false confidence in poor sources. Making a reasonable effort with source evaluation also levels the playing field for books and databases – the extra effort to access these generally (but not always) more reliable sources seems worth it when balanced against the extra effort required to determine the value of a general internet source.
I strongly recommend John Royce’s excellent series of three articles entitled Not just CRAAP when preparing to teach source evaluation, as they really changed and expanded the way I thought about and taught this skill.
Source evaluation is also a good time to talk about bias and perspective and how to make sure you read a diverse range of points of view. Clearly the first step towards this is understanding how to identify bias, and recognising that all sources (and readers) have an inherent bias which can only be mitigated by recognising this and making an effort to read a ‘balanced diet’. In many senses we are better off in the digital environment than we were in a purely print environment because we have access to so many more points of view. It is also important to recognise, however, that while everyone may have an opinion, not all opinions are equal and, in considering all sides of an argument, students need to be able to sift out fact from opinion and carefully reasoned argument from assertion. It reminds me of the old adage “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out“!
Which source evaluation tools do others use? Do you stick with one throughout the school, or use a range? How do you find your students get on with them?
*One of our science teachers was concerned enough about the name “CRAAP test” that she contacted the English department to check whether it was really OK to use the word crap in class! While on the one hand the name is intended to be humorous to help students to remember the acronym, it was a reminder that we need to be careful not to make staff (and possibly students) feel uncomfortable. (You’ll be unsurprised to learn, given that English texts at higher levels can often contain some challenging language, that the English department had no problem with the word CRAAP.)
I am particularly interested in how we counter and mitigate some of the more negative aspects of the digital environment, in order to benefit from the more positive ones. In this post I wanted to focus on the act of reading itself in the digital environment.
Reading in print and online are clearly different, and Barbara’s chapter prompted me to explore this further. This blog article led me to this excellent meta-analysis (Delgado, Vargas, Ackerman and Salmerón, 2018), which found that there is significant evidence to suggest that reading comprehension is better for print texts than digital ones, especially when:
Under time constraints
Reading informational rather than narrative texts
(both likely conditions during inquiry).
Moreover, readers of digital texts (under time constraint) were more likely to be overconfident and predict that their understanding was better than it actually was. The ‘screen inferiority’ effect increased over the 18 years prior to the study, suggesting that children who have grown up in a digital environment are actually less likely to understand as well from digital texts as from print versions. Delgado, Vargas, Ackerman and Salmerón (2018, p.34) state that “If simply being exposed to digital technologies were enough to gain these skills, then we would expect an increasing advantage of digital reading, or at least decreasing screen inferiority over the years”, implying that digital reading skills need to be taught.
There are suggestions that the digital environment promotes a shallower engagement with texts (known as the Shallowing Hypothesis), which can spill over into engagement with print texts – and one article I read while thinking about this (which I now can’t find – can anyone help me with the evidence here?) suggested that the effects that reading digitally have on comprehension and concentration can spill over into our interactions with print texts. So someone who spends a lot of time reading on screens may then find it harder to concentrate for the length of a print book. Anecdotally this resonates because we see in our reading lessons how hard many children find it to concentrate on just sitting and reading a book for 40 minutes. Was this always the case? Has the digitally connected world they inhabit made it worse? (Or did I just not notice it when I was growing up because I and my friendship circle were readers?)
The study states that “[a]n encouraging finding from Lauterman and Ackerman (2014) and Sidi et al. (2017) is that simple methodologies (e.g., writing keywords summarizing the text, framing the task as central) that engage people in in-depth processing make it possible to eliminate screen inferiority, in terms of both performance and overconfidence, even under a limited time frame” (Delgado, Vargas, Ackerman and Salmerón, 2018, p.35), but cautions that “Lauterman and Ackerman (2014) found that methods to overcome screen inferiority are effective only for people who prefer digital reading, but not for those who prefer paper reading” (p.24). It also suggests that by reading in a digital environment students drop an average of 2/3 of a year of the average reading comprehension progress they would make at elementary school, which is fairly significant.
So what can we do?
The digital environment promotes broad shallow reading, and there are stages of inquiry that suit that. In some ways it is ideal for Connect (except that finding what you need online when you aren’t yet quite sure what you are looking for can be a challenge!). Perhaps an argument for a set of curated, linked online resources at the start of an inquiry that students can explore during the Connect stage. Particularly if it is a more open inquiry. Curiously we have tended to go in the other direction out of necessity. When resourcing mixed (print and digital) inquiries we have tended to use more general books as a starting point, and then allow students to explore online once they have a clearer idea of their topic. Largely because it can be difficult to find print resources that allow them to fully explore the questions that they generate.
Lauterman and Ackerman’s finding (above) that simple active note-taking methodologies make a real difference to comprehension is very encouraging, and makes it even more important to teach effective note-taking in a digital environment. It would be interesting to pursue whether it makes a difference whether these notes are handwritten or not. I would imagine that the Construct graphic organisers we use also help to promote comprehension and narrow the gap between print and digital reading in a similar way. The other interesting finding here is that this only works for those who prefer digital reading, making it important that students who prefer to read in print have access to a printer when working with digital resources. I certainly know some students in this category at IB DP level, who prefer to print articles they have found and keep them in a folder, rather than save them as PDFs or links. This can present its own citing and referencing issues if they do not make an appropriate note of the source and they need to be aware of this. I have suggested using the Annotated Bibliography on screen to keep track of their sources, and the Investigative Journal in print in this case. [Note that the flip side of the coin, beyond the scope of the study, is the impact of digital tools like Immersive Reader to support struggling readers and enable them to access information that might otherwise be beyond their reach.]
For some inquiries where we have curated a set of resources (print and/or online) in advance, it might be worth providing these as a print pack where possible and appropriate. We have done this in the past where computer rooms were not available or where we preferred to keep students in the classroom for some reason, but maybe there is an argument for this as a more deliberate strategy in some cases.
Perhaps encourage deeper reading by clearly distinguishing between ‘exploration’ time and ‘deep reading’ time, requiring students to nominate a small group of resources that they will stick to and read more deeply at a certain point, whether in print or on screen.
Making students aware of the research, so that it can inform their metacognitive reflections – especially given the ‘overconfidence’ finding. There could actually be a great inquiry topic on exploring the effects of reading online…
Make time and space for students to read print resources. Focusing on reading a book (fiction or non-fiction) for any length of time is a skill that needs to be practiced. Reading lessons do still matter at secondary level and we need to fight for them in our schools.
I would also suggest that the ability to search within texts on a digital environment gives students the ability to access information in texts that might otherwise prove too challenging for them (due to their length). This is a double-edged sword – particularly in the light of the decontextualization that Barbara discusses.
[I have been meaning to read Maryanne Woolf’s “Reader, come home: The reading brain in a digital world” for a while now, and this discussion has finally prompted me to take it out the library. Now I just need to tear myself away from screens for long enough to read it! 😊]
What do other people think? What do you do to mitigate the negative effects of the digital environment and promote the positive ones? Have you noticed any effects of the digital environment on your students?
(I’m going to apologise in advance – I find it really hard to think ‘out loud’ in small chunks, which would probably be more helpful for a discussion like this, and which all of you seem to do so well. Curiously in that sense, given the topic under discussion, I am perhaps less at home in the fast-paced digital environment than many of you! I having been reading and thinking about all the interesting ideas here and in the chapter and now find myself with a little bit of time to contribute to the discussion, so it is all likely to come flooding out over several longish posts. Sorry!)
We have a lot to thank the democratizing power of the digital environment for – without it we wouldn’t be having this discussion here. The internet is an amazing professional development tool, but is as much a problem for us as for our students. How do we make sure that we are learning from ‘experts’ rather than just those with the loudest voices? What makes an expert these days? Has the digital environment changed that? In the past there were high barriers to getting your voice widely heard. That didn’t mean, for example, that ‘bad’ books (by which I mean inaccurate, poorly researched or heavily biased) didn’t get published, but they were arguably much less common that ‘bad’ digital resources are today. Equally, there was almost certainly much that wasn’t widely shared or published that would have been of great value, and collaboration such as this across large distances by professionals who may often work alone was much more complicated (as evidenced by some of the fascinating letters between great academics of history!).
Barbara’s comments about the four phase lesson model (direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice, sharing and reflection), both in this forum and in her chapter really struck me because I think that many anti-inquiry direct-instruction enthusiasts would be very surprised to see an inquiry specialist advocating this approach. The false direct-instruction vs inquiry-learning debate does a lot of harm to education in general because it forces good educators into taking extreme positions – and generates a lot of guilt because these positions are ultimately untenable at both ends of the spectrum. Constructivism (and inquiry) is a stance, not a teaching method. It is about supporting (and challenging) children to find a personal connection with a topic and to construct their own firm understanding of it through experience, NOT about abandoning children to figure out thousands of years of academic progress by themselves (a concern raised with me yesterday by a Science colleague who is very interested and engaged in educational debate and progress in our school, is very open to the idea of inquiry and for whom I have a huge amount of respect). As such, direct instruction is one of a number of very valid tools that we can use during PART of an inquiry. The main differences between constructivist and instructivist approach show more in the nature and content of the four phases.
I mention this in part because of the debate we have been having here about teaching experience and qualifications. I think it is important to understand what we bring to the table as Librarians. I have found my teaching experience and training very useful, but Politics teachers in my school don’t want to talk to me about planning inquiries because I was a Physics teacher (they could talk to any of their Physics colleagues for that). They want to talk to me because I am a Librarian. It takes time and experience to build confidence with this – but you can start small with individual skills sessions, building confidence and relationships. Professional development opportunities and discussions like this are also very valuable, as is the opportunity to kick ideas for individual inquiries around in the forum. It still amazes me that I can add value to the teaching of even subjects I have never studied, and I still feel nervous approaching a meeting about a brand new inquiry. But as the conversation begins it becomes clear that my perspective is very different because I am not a subject specialist, and have experience of inquiry across other disciplines, which my subject colleagues don’t have, and this helps us to shape something better together than we could have done alone. It is also worth remembering that we are not suggesting that we offer something magical that our subject colleagues couldn’t do if they invested enough time and energy into it – more that we are investing our time in inquiry while they invest theirs in their specialism so that together we can achieve more. We are all on a journey, and there will always be people ahead of us who can offer help and people behind who need our support. And however uncertain we feel, we are usually ahead of our classroom colleagues on the inquiry journey simply because we have chosen to invest our time in it.
[More to follow relating more specifically to the digital environment and to Barbara’s fascinating and thought provoking chapter.]
We are keen to expand our EPQ support this year, using resources developed for our IBDP Extended Essay cohort. Currently Chris Foster, our Head of Student Research supervises all of our EPQ students (for us it’s a smaller cohort than for the EE) and delivers an excellent support program for them, including some crossover from the EE support, but this year Chris and I are keen to build a specific LibGuide for this group and develop a similar co-operative support relationship to the one we have for the EE. Support for the EE and the EPQ has a lot in common, so for anyone interested it might also be worth exploring the FOSIL and the IB Diploma Programme Extended Essay (EE) topic too (there are some interesting conversations going on in that Topic at the moment around the use of LibGuides vs OneNote vs a VLE, and on support for citing and referencing).
All of this reminds me that I soon need to turn my mind to our EPQ support, which will build on the EE support. Currently Chris Foster, our Head of Student Research supervises all of our EPQ students (for us it’s a smaller cohort than for the EE) and delivers an excellent support program for them, including some crossover from the EE support. Support for the EE and the EPQ has a lot in common, so for anyone interested it might also be worth exploring the FOSIL and the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) topic too. We had an interesting discussion on supporting questionnaire design there last April which was very relevant for this year’s EE Investigation Days and led directly to Chris’ Nearpod ‘lesson’. I really liked Emily‘s suggestion of inviting someone in from the Marketing Department to talk to students, and that remains an option to explore for another year.
It is easy to dismiss this aspect, but we’ve all had those books we know are great but that just won’t circulate until you get a version with a new cover…. LibGuides look like a website and work like a website. Students find them easy to navigate and use, and the back end is very easy to edit. If you want to do fancy things (like recolouring boxes and tabs) you need to learn a bit of CSS but everything else – from adding text and images, to uploading documents and embedding videos and forms – is very straightforward. If you are interested, a free trial when you have a bit of time to play is definitely worth it – and they were quite generous about extending ours when we were unexpectedly busy and couldn’t explore everything we wanted to in the time we had.
It may also seem like a small thing, but I also think the fact that every page of every guide has our custom banner at the top really matters on an advocacy level. Even for inquiries where we have provided resources but have no role in delivery, the Library’s involvement is clear – and we can sneak our mission statement of “Enabling understanding through reading” on there too.
2. Very stable
I’ve never had a problem with LibGuides going down. By contrast (and admittedly this was a couple of years ago) when I’ve used OneNote in whole class inquiry situations there is often one student who can’t access the class notebook for some unknown reason and I need to remove and readd then to the guide on the spot. This is OK for class teachers who see their classes a few times a week, but when I only see the EE students as a group four times a year I need my chosen platform to just work without any glitches. We also use OneNote extensively as a tool for collaborating between the Library staff and, while it is generally brilliant and I wouldn’t want to be without it, there are times when the synching is quite glitchy. With LibGuides I am confident that if I have posted something it is definitely there and the students will be able to see it.
3. Reusing resources between (and within) guides
This one is huge for me, and one of the reasons I really like the platform. When you want to reuse a resource (such as a content box, an entire tab, a document, a ‘widget’ (e.g. a video or a Form) you can choose whether to copy it, in which case you can make changes that won’t affect the original, or mirror it, in which case it will always look the same as the original version. This is great because then if you update the original the change cascades through all the linked guides automatically. My understanding of OneNote (and I could be wrong, so please do correct me) is that your only option is to copy a page to another notebook, and once copied it has no link to the original. You could also create a hyperlink I suppose, but that would rely on being certain that the users had access to both guides. Now this isn’t an issue if you only ever intend to have one EE notebook, but we have found LibGuides so useful that we now have many different guides at different levels of the school and the mirroring feature is great for keeping them up to date.
4. Blog feature
The blog has been brilliant for communicating with the EE students. Yes, I could email them, but the blog emails them to notify them of a new post and then keeps all the communication in the same place so they can look through it at any time. It doesn’t get lost in their email accounts. Like many things in LibGuides, it’s similar to something else that I could do another way, but better. The judgement to make is how much all of those things taken together are worth to your library.
5. Easy to lock down
This may sound a little control freaky of me, but something I really like about LibGuides is that they are only editable by Library staff (or other staff you choose to give an account to – and there are levels of account where you can give particular people the ability to edit some guides and not others, or to need their edits checked by an admin level user before they go live).
In a OneNote class notebook you would be able to decide who has access to edit the content library in terms of who was added as a ‘teacher’ – but in order for supervisors to be able to see the individual student tabs you would need to add them as teachers. Which is fine, but I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable with all the supervisors being able to edit my content and potentially accidentally alter stuff. But it wouldn’t make sense not to allow supervisors to view their own students’ pages. I’m not sure what choice I’d make here if I used OneNote, so I am curious what you have chosen to do.
6. …but everyone can see it
I don’t need to ‘add’ anyone to my guide. Everyone can see it as soon as I publish it – EE students, supervisors, subject teachers and HODs who aren’t supervisors this year, SLT, parents, GCSE students who are curious about the EE, people external to the school… I really like this transparency and it seriously reduces my admin time because I don’t have to worry about giving the right people access. For example, during lockdown we had a parent who was concerned about whether his child was being given appropriate support for the EE and I could send him all the links that his son had access to (which also explained the ‘live’ support on offer). He was instantly much happier and more reassured, and on board with encouraging his son to use the support on offer.I can also have Year 12 IB and Year 13 IB using the same guide at the same time. Although Year 13 are supposed to have finished by the time Year 12 start, there are always one or two who have not for various reasons. Some Year 13 also return to the EE guide for support with IAs because they know where to find the materials. This means that Year 13 benefit from any updates I make for the next year’s Year 12. I wouldn’t want to do this with OneNote because of the massive proliferation of student tabs it would produce. I would need a new notebook every year (presumably copied from the old one).
Where there are downloadable resources that must be restricted to Oakham School users (or to certain groups within the school), perhaps for copyright reasons, I provide those as SharePoint links which allows me to set permissions for individual documents without affecting the visibility of the whole guide.
7. Student and supervisor resources in the same place
The ability to mirror boxes means I can put a supervisor tab on the student guide, with all the resources that are most relevant to the supervisors mirrored in one place. It means students and supervisors are going to the same place for their resources. Because we decided to go for LibGuides CMS (which has other benefits that I won’t go into here but would be happy to chat to anyone about), I could also password protect this tab if I felt strongly about it, but I generally haven’t because I have no problem with students accessing staff resources should they wish to. You could, of course, do this in OneNote with a supervisor tab in the content library (but no option to password protect) or a ‘teacher only’ tab if you had chosen to make the supervisors teachers on your guide, and put hyperlinks to the original resources. This one is not a game-changer for me, but I like the way it works in LibGuides.
8. All Library resources in the same place
This is (linked to point 3) absolutely huge. Having originally subscribed to LibGuides largely with the EE in mind, but hoping to use it for other things, we were actually astonished how rapidly our use expanded across almost all areas of support that we offer. Within a year almost every inquiry we support, along with all our reading schemes, has an accompanying LibGuide, and I learnt enough CSS over the summer to build a custom Library homepage on LibGuides that doesn’t immediate look like a LibGuide (if you ignore the big yellow COVID announcement box at the top of the page, which wouldn’t normally be there!). Heritage, our Library Management System is great, and we love the ability to endlessly customize reports, but the customization options on the homepage are a bit limited and fiddly to use. With LibGuides and a bit of coding background it is easy to produce an attractive customized homepage giving access to all your resources (including a bunch of libguides!) in one place. We have had amazing feedback from our classroom colleagues about how useful the guides are – and the open access makes it really easy to show one colleague a guide that has been produced for another subject so they can see what we can do. On an advocacy level it is incredibly valuable to us that all our content is immediately visible to everyone from our homepage so they can instantly see how much we are involved with, and the impact of this within your school should not be underestimated.
Nothing is perfect, and there are, of course, downsides to the platform:
A LibGuides subscription is expensive, and would require sacrifices from a budget – or making a case for a budget increase, which is pretty challenging for us all right now. We felt really lucky though that we had made the decision to get it in October 2019, and had it up and running before all the lockdown chaos began, and we definitely wouldn’t be without it now. It enabled us, for example, to get involved with planning and producing resources for one of the Academic Cornerstone Courses that was delivered to Years 11 and 13 during lockdown last April, which I do not think we would have been invited into without it. It has definitely been worth the cost for us. However it will not be possible in every school on every budget.
This one is a bit of a niggle, which may seem perverse given all I have said about the advantages of an open access resource. In LibGuides CMS there are all sorts of access permission options (which may include single sign on, I haven’t fully explored them yet) for the guides, but NOT for the A-Z databases page (I have checked this with Springshare support). This is a real problem for us because, like many schools, we don’t have anything like the university style Shibboleth or Open Athens, our databases are either accessed by ‘private’ direct links or by passwords. Neither of which can be posted on a public webpage. My only option has been for the database links to point to a Library Sharepoint site which contains all the ‘real’ links and passwords. This is a clunky solution that I am not really happy with and I wish they would come up with a better one! Initially I didn’t use the A-Z databases feature at all, but it does have some advantages so I am giving it a go with this clunky work-around.
3. Students can’t add content
Again, a reflection of the advantage above that everyone can view and no-one but library staff can edit. If I wanted to create a load of ‘user’ accounts (which I don’t – too much admin, and I don’t want to make things complicated by giving staff and students more usernames and passwords to remember) there is some functionality I could use, like allowing people to comment on blog posts, but it isn’t worth it. What I tend to do instead is use Teams (and potentially OneNote) and put links to the Team in the LibGuide. We had great success in getting students to do an assignment in Teams following the IT Workshop (which I will discuss in another post) and this was absolutely the right format for that. I could see at a glance who had and hadn’t submitted, mark the assignments and give feedback within the Team. And all the supervisors can see the feeback and the mark should they wish to.
I also encourage students to set up their own OneNote notebooks as their Researcher’s Reflection Space and to share them with their supervisors. I don’t insist on this, however. Some students still prefer to make notes on paper, and some would rather just use a folder on their computer/OneDrive. That is between them and their supervisors to decide. I don’t particularly like the RRS in Managebac – it’s too linear – but I do tell them it is there if they want to use it.
This isn’t really a con for me, to be honest, as I am very happy with LibGuides as a one-way content delivery platform (there are other ‘LibWizard’ add-ons such as forms and forms and quizzes if you realy want them and can justify the cost, but we haven’t subscribed to that). I have access to plenty of other options for two-way communication.
Hope that helps explain our decision to use LibGuides. I’d love to hear other’s reviews of the platforms they have chosen. Nothing is perfect, after all, so I am sure we can learn as much from your choices as you can from ours.
It was a big decision for us to choose to subscribe to LibGuides because it is expensive, and did require cuts elsewhere in our budget to find the money (I don’t think anyone is in a position to make budget increases right now!). I’m going to explain why we think it was worth it and will definitely be continuing with our subscription, with the following caveats:
When we were investigating LibGuides I found it quite difficult to find detailed, unbiased reviews of what the platform could do, what it couldn’t do and whether people thought it was worth the cost, so that is what I will attempt to provide here – along with a helpful record for me in case I need it to justify the cost in our budget this year 😊. I have no affiliation to or connection with LibGuides/Springshare. I am not ‘promoting’ the product and neither I nor the FOSIL Group get any benefits from this post. It is just my opinion.
As a school we do not have a Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that I can tap into. I have no experience of a platform like Firefly and, given you have chosen to use this Emily, it is highly likely that we could have achieved something similar if we had had access to that. I would love to hear more about what you do (I’ll make a post over the next few days about how to add images to your posts in case you have time to share something of what you do with the community and want to put some images in). We do have Moodle, but it is not widely used within the school and when I had a play with it, it did not do everything I wanted and I was aware that, because it wasn’t really used, I would have to train pupils to use it in a way that I didn’t feel was necessary with LibGuides because they are more intuitive.
This was our solution to the asynchronous EE support problem. It is not the only solution and different schools have very different circumstances. Just because it was right for us, I am certainly not suggesting that everyone needs to do it this way. While there are reasons that I decided not to use OneNote (which I will explain below), I am certainly not criticizing anyone who does feel able to provide their support in that format.
Very visually attractive and easy to navigate and edit
Easy to reuse resources between guides, in either a mirrored or copied format
Easy to lock down my content…
…but everyone can see it
Student and supervisor resources are in the same place
Can bring all library resources together into the same place. Great for making a Library website. Massively customisable if you want to.
No SSO for databases. With LibGuides CMS you can password protect areas or use “CAS and SAML/Shibboleth/ADFS”. I haven’t really explored this because the only page I want to protect is the A-Z Databases page and, as far as I can tell from conversations with their support team, this isn’t possible.
Ruth and Emily both raised two important questions and I’m going to answer them in two separate posts. Partly for clarity, but also partly because if this topic continues in both directions I might need to split it into two separate topics (so it would be helpful if in any replies you could address these issues separately). I’ll answer the LibGuides one today and the referencing one a bit later in the week when I get a gap.