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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.





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>

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



Evaluating Strategies for Evaluating Sources

Many faculty members in the library and beyond strive to help students learn to evaluate the information sources they use, whether in print, or on websites, or presented as images, audio, or video. Evaluating sources is a core competency of information literacy, and is highlighted by the Association of College and Research Libraries in ACRL Information Literacy Standard 3:

The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.

I’ll be honest: Standard 3 has always been my favorite of the ACRL standards, and I spend lots of my instructional brainstorming time on ways to incorporate more discussion of evaluating sources into my teaching. One of the first things I read on the topic when I first became a librarian was Marc Meola’s article in portal: Libraries and the Academy called Chucking the Checklist. Meola suggests that librarians stop using checklists of evaluation criteria — often accuracy, expertise, currency, relevance, etc. — to teach students to evaluate websites. Instead, we can approach instruction on evaluating sources as an opportunity to discuss the library’s vetted resources like article databases, and to use comparison and corroboration to contrast websites and library resources.

I enjoy Meola’s article and agree that the checklist approach is simplistic, however, there’s often not enough time in our instructional sessions with students to delve as deeply into a discussion of the differences between information sources as Meola suggests. So I confess that I do use checklists, though I try to contextualize and discuss the criteria with students, either individually or as a group, while they search. I also like to frame this as source interrogation: what questions can students ask about the source, and what do the answers tell us?

At City Tech we started out (following the lead of many other academic libraries) by using a set of questions to ask about sources created by the Merriam Library at California State University, Chico. This list of questions is called the CRAAP Test — guaranteed to get a giggle out of even the sleepiest class — which stands for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. Each criteria includes several questions to ask about the source. It’s a long and thorough list, and it’s deservedly popular in academic libraries.

Last week I followed a Twitter link that led me to another set of criteria for evaluating sources, this one called the SMELL Test. This guide from PBS.org’s MediaShift website urges readers to consider the source, motivation, evidence, logic, and what was left out of the information they read about online. Since it’s presented in article form it’s not exactly a checklist per se, but I think the SMELL test would make an interesting article for students to read and discuss.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed this 13-minute TED Talk from journalist Markham Nolan on How to Separate Fact and Fiction Online. In it, Nolan details the tools and strategies that journalists use to check sources and verify information in images and video even as a news story is developing. For example, he discusses how photos of Hurricane Sandy were fact-checked. I think students often forget that they should evaluate their image, audio, and video sources as well as text-based sources, and I think this video can help us make that case.

Do you have strategies or materials that you use to help students learn to think critically about information sources? Share them in the comments if so!

Hostos Using Blackboard for Information Literacy Workshops

This semester, for the first time, the library began offering online versions of our information literacy workshops through Blackboard. “Keys to Database Searching” was offered four times and “Finding Articles” class was given twice during the Fall semester. On weekdays, the workshops were open 7 a.m. to 8:45pm while a Saturday work-shop was offered from 8 am to 3 pm. Instead of having to sign up for an information literacy workshop and struggle to fit the workshop into their busy schedules, the online format now freed Hostos students from the inconvenience of traveling to a class. They could now log into the workshop at any time throughout the day, completing tasks at their convenience. On their end, librarian instructors logged in throughout the day to respond to discussion board posts and student questions. Busy Hostos students who attended the online workshops were able to learn information literacy and research skills from anywhere.
All workshops were fully registered although not all registered students completed the workshops. Student comments were uniformly enthusiastic: “I thought the online workshop was GREAT! I got to do it at home by myself and really concentrate and focus on what I was learning. And I really liked how the Librarian answered all of my questions pretty fast. I wish there were more FULLY online workshops!” One student commented that this work-shop was her first introduction to Blackboard.
Librarian instructors benefited from the experience of teaching online. We are able to assess student learning in ways that are not possible in a short, single session workshop. We also connected with individual students, responding to their specific concerns through email in the context of an organized lesson. We hope that these individual connections will encourage students to come back and use the library for future research. Although we are still experimenting with format and process, look for more online workshops during spring semester.
—Prof. Kate Lyons

Skills That Transfer: Transliteracy and the Global Librarian (ACRL/NY 2011 Symposium)

Philosopher and librarian Lane Wilkinson was in town last week to present his thoughts on transliteracy at the ACRL/NY symposium.   Winkinson is on a mission to persuade us to teach students more transferable skills.  Students need transferable skills he argues, so as to be able to move more easily among diverse resources and interfaces.  We should teach not just how to search a database, but how that database works.  He encourages us to embrace three principles in designing our teaching practice:  (more…)

ACRL Intentional Teacher Immersion

I was given a chance to go to the ACRL Intentional Teacher Immersion that was held in Nashville, Tennessee from November 16th to November 20th.  It was an incredible, amazing experience.  It will take me a long time to really sort out what I learned, so please consider this a first draft.

The workshop followed two themes.  The importance of reflection on our teaching practice and alternative pedagogical techniques.   (more…)