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The Power of PowerPoint

Alright, maybe it is not that powerful, but at least, useful.

In my college days, professors’ lectures were mostly verbal and sometimes aided by a blackboard. The professor would either talk my head off throughout the whole lecture non-stop making me take notes busily in the fear that I might otherwise miss some important things, or in a better situation, write some key points on the blackboard with a chalk but I, occasionally if not often, had to do a guess work due to an individualized handwriting. Sometimes, the professor might use a slide projector making things a little better, but I still struggled with the handwriting on the slides. I never had a class that featured in PowerPoint presentation because that was in the last century, a long time ago before PowerPoint came into common use in classroom teaching. Thanks to technology that makes teaching both verbal and visual.

My first attempt to use PowerPoint was in 2002 when I was engaged in a summer teaching exchange program between CUNY and Shanghai University in China. The two courses that I taught, Introduction to Information Sources & Services and Using the Internet for Research, had two hundred students in each. Class size was incredibly large compared with the American’s (we have an average class size of 25 at York), partly because the students were interested in the course contents (and partly … hey, it’s a populous country.) The classes would be held in a large lecture-hall and I would have to use a microphone to deliver lectures. All seemed okay except it might be difficult for students sitting in the back to take notes from distance. Then I discovered that the room was equipped with a computer and a projector for the lecturer. I decided to try to use PowerPoint instead of using a traditional blackboard. However, I was a novice user and knew little about the software. Fortunately, my teaching assistants, assigned by the university, were tech savvy. They taught me the basics and showed me some useful tips.  (Off the topic: they also helped me “climb over the wall” because some databases and websites were blocked by the so-called “Great Wall”, a government-backed internet filtering system, but I needed to use them for classroom demonstrations.) All lectures went smoothly and the university was pleased to see the students learning outcomes. Since then I have used PowerPoint frequently.

It must be stated that I am no expert in the full spectrum of PowerPoint universe but a happy user of it. In my practice I enjoy the following benefits from using PowerPoint to teach one-shot library workshops.

It is visual

In addition to our talking, students can enjoy the graphs, diagrams, tables, images, and photos that are visually descriptive in effective ways. Thus, the students can get a better understanding of our points.

It is multimedia

We may use Animations, Transitions, Audio and Video files to enhance the presentation and to enrich user experience.

It has multiple usages

We can save the PPT file as PDF and make it handouts for students to use during the session and/or for future reference.

It makes it easier for students to take notes

Students never need to guess what’s on the projected screen since the text is typed.

It is more than a local file

We can hyperlink reference databases and websites to introduce sources from our library’s subscribed databases and on the Internet, and access relevant information with a click of the mouse.

I also recommend the following tips.

  • Use large fonts for both heading and text for easy reading.
  • Use timed presentation if you are good at time management.
  • Use click-controlled presentation if you want to have more control over slides.
  • Don’t use the background color that is too similar to the text color.
  • Don’t use too much text on a single slide.

Attached here is a sample PPT file which I use for orientation workshops.


Open access and ScienceDirect/Scopus

From Elsevier’s newsletter, this article might be useful for teaching and researching:

7 tips for finding open access content on ScienceDirect and Scopus


IL Instruction Overload

As a relaxing summer is behind us and we are in a new academic year, everything goes back to a normal rhythm from Adagio to Andante. That means IL teaching activities pick up the tempo and are likely to accelerate to Allegro as semester progresses.

May I recommend a timely article, “Forty Ways to Survive IL Instruction Overload; Or, how to Avoid Teacher Burnout.”

Like recommended in the article, I sometimes play music by using audio files in PowerPoint to calm down/entertain/relax/wake up/energize my classes, “Sleep Away” at the beginning and “Kalimba” at the end.


Badia, Giovanna. “Forty Ways to Survive IL Instruction Overload; Or, how to Avoid Teacher Burnout.” College & Undergraduate Libraries (2017): 1-7.

Teaching information literacy (IL) sessions can be emotionally exhausting, especially when faced with a heavy instructional workload that requires repeating similar course content multiple times. This article lists forty practical, how-to strategies for avoiding burnout and thriving when teaching.





Subject Liaison Librarian

One of the programs often seen in academic libraries is the subject liaison program. Librarians are assigned responsible area(s) based on their education background and/or professional training. They serve as a bridge between teaching faculty and the library. A liaison librarian’s tasks may include, but are not limited to, bibliographic instruction, collection development, and research consultation. In addition, the liaison librarian is responsible for informing the target department/program about current status of relevant information sources should any changes occur. In the teaching front, some libraries, in collaboration with teaching faculty, embed liaison librarian in the program as a co-teacher for the class.

At York College Library, we have assigned 24 subject areas among 10 librarians. https://www.york.cuny.edu/library/about-the-library/subject-liaisons.  One librarian served as an embedded librarian in a health science class in 2012-13. An exciting event occurs every year when we receive the budget for new book acquisition. Each of us will get a share of the pie and update our collections with his or her wisdom.

A recent article on the topic by Karen Stanley Grigg, Science Liaison Librarian at University of North Carolina at Greensboro Libraries, is worth reading.

Building a Successful Liaison Program from the Ground up


A teaching tool

I found this 5-page handout rather useful.

Literature Search: A Librarian’s Handout to Introduce Tools, Terms and Techniques co-developed by Katy Kavanagh Webb, Head of Research & Instructional Services at East Carolina University’s Joyner Library, and Library Connect newsletter of Elsevier.

Each page of the handout can stand alone or be used together as a teaching tool that covers:

  • Keywords, operators and filters
  • Search tools
  • Types of literature
  • Evaluate information
  • Organize research

You may download the handout in PDF here.

“It’s not a replacement for librarian-led instruction,” says Katy, “but it can act as a calling card to introduce key concepts or as a leave-behind visual reminder to continue these best practices when we librarians are no longer in the room.” (Library Connect April 7, 2017)

Library anxiety

“Library anxiety” was identified thirty years ago when Constance A. Mellon of East Carolina University published her paper, “Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory and Its Development,” [College & Research Libraries 47.2 (1986): 160-165. <http://crl.acrl.org/content/47/2/160.full.pdf>], describing college students feeling intimidated, embarrassed, and overwhelmed by libraries and librarians. Library literature has been enhanced by this topic since then.

The anxiety appears to be more common among freshman students. This phenomenon ascertains the importance of library instruction for first-year undergraduates, as well as calls for user-friendly learning environment. A recent report on Columbia libraries is fun to read: “The Strange Affliction of ‘Library Anxiety’ and What Librarians Do to Help” <http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-strange-affliction-of-library-anxiety-and-what-librarians-do-to-help>

Dr. Russell’s talk @Rutgers

A follow up for those interested, a video recording of the said talk is available now:


The evolution of literacy

Daniel Russell of Google had a talk at School of Communication and Information of Rutgers yesterday. The topic sounds rather interesting. Obviously, being literate today is far different from being literate in the 18th century. The process of becoming literate has evolved. How do we accomplish our mission as educators? This is an ongoing issue which we ought to think about it constantly.
Here is brief info about the talk. http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/events/lis-brownbag-talk-by-dan-russell-from-google.html

Title: “The Evolution of Literacy: How search changes our understanding of reading, writing, and knowledge”
Abstract: What does it mean to be literate at a time when you can search billions of texts in less than 300 milliseconds? Although you might think that “literacy” is one of the great constants that transcends the ages, the skills of a literate person have changed substantially over time as texts and technology allow for new kinds of reading and understanding. Knowing how to read is just the beginning of it — knowing how to frame a question, pose a query, how to interpret the texts you find, how to organize and use the information you discover, how to understand your metacognition — these are all critical parts of being literate as well. In this talk I’ll review what literacy is in the age of Google, and show how some very surprising and unexpected skills will turn out to be critical in the years ahead.

Instant expert

In my student years I was often amazed by reference librarians who helped me find relevant information even the subject was remote to his/her specialty (I was told so). They are knowledgeable in general and quick learners for sure. But more importantly, they know the strategy and logic when encountering unfamiliar subjects on their daily job. This ability is seen as one of the prominent characteristics of librarianship. It makes the reference librarian as a walking-encyclopedia, so to speak.

In a recent blog post <http://searchresearch1.blogspot.com/2015/05/this-week-conversation.html>, Daniel Russell of Google asks “What do you do when you need to learn about a topic area very quickly?” His take is to “look for groups of people interested in your topic.” Other people suggested sources and tools like Wikipedia, good keywords, professional associations, authoritative guides, blogs, and of course, Google search. I like to check Wikipedia for known subjects, e.g. classical music, and to search Google for just about everything. In most cases, the latter will include the former in search results. Dr. Russell will have a related talk “How to become an instant expert on a topic through Google” at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Philadelphia. <https://www.ire.org/events-and-training/event/1574/1952/>

Is your audience listening?

One of the things we don’t want to see during teaching is the disconnection between the lecturer and the listener. It happens for various reasons. It could be the lecturer; even a veteran speaker could have a dull moment. It could be the listener; he or she might have had a long day already. It could be the use of jargon, clarity of speaking, tempo of talking (either too slow or too fast), unchanged pitch of voice, student’s lack of interest, slow computer, or even the weather…

The most effective way of teaching involves two-way communication. We should try to create an active learning environment to make sure students remain engaged in learning process.

Ways of engaging students may include asking simple questions, doing classroom easy quizzes, using game-based demonstrations (I still remember vividly Sandy’s, a wonderful former colleague, game of Boolean Logic).

Visit Vitae, a service of The Chronicle of Higher Education, one may find useful teaching tips there. Although they may not relate to library science, general rules can be applied. For example: “What if You Have to Lecture?” By David Gooblar. URL: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/909-what-if-you-have-to-lecture?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en



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