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Citation Interpretation as Competition: Putting the Em-PHA-sis on the Learner

 [Today’s guest blogger is Kate Borowske, Academic Librarian at Bush Library, Hamline University. The following is a summary of her lightning round presentation given at CLIC’s Hush the Shushing Conference on October 24. During the lightning round session at the Conference, each CLIC member library presented an overview of a recent project focusing on the library’s users. Borowske designed a game to create a learning experience for students that allows them to practice this skill rather than simply read about it.  This approach puts the focus on the learner rather than on the content.]

One of the many skills our students need as researchers is the ability to identify the type of material cited in a citation.  They’re usually not too motivated to learn this.  Until they come across a citation to something they really want and can’t figure out how to get, it’s not something that’s even on their radar screen.  One of our librarians, Siobhan DiZio, makes a competition out of “decoding” citations when teaching first-year students.  We decided to turn this group activity into a game that would be available to librarians and faculty to embed in LibGuides or Blackboard.  Students can use it as practice on their own or instructors can use it as a class activity.
When a librarian determines there is information a student needs to learn, the first thing we usually think of is to write down all the Information we know on a topic so that the student can know everything we know.  The content/information drives what we include, how we arrange it, and how we describe it.  However, for the learner, it’s not engaging and it’s overwhelming.  

If, instead, we create an activity that mimics real life (in academia, anyway), we can focus on the “what do we want students to do?” rather than “what do we want students to know?”   Students don’t need to memorize information about citations; they need to know what to do when face-to-face with one.  We put the focus on their experience rather than the arrangement of content on the page.  This gives the student an opportunity to practice in a game environment, rather than in real life (no one has died from misidentifying citations, but it can lead to frustration and dead ends).   And games are more motivating than reading text; giving the learner control improves engagement and motivation.  And competition ramps it up even more.  
The game we developed is very simple:  students simply drag-and-drop a citation to the correct place:  books, book chapters, articles, and web pages.  If they drag it to the incorrect box, it bounces back to the starting point.  If they drag it to the correct place, it stays.   There is no information on how to tell these citations apart.  Students need to actively examine the elements in order to solve the puzzle themselves, with simple correct-or-not-correct feedback.  It allows them to make mistakes and work their way out of them.  Try it:  Decode the Citation.

When there is something you’d like your students to learn, put the learner at the center rather than the content.   Instead of starting with, “What information do they need to know,” start with, “What behavior are we trying to encourage?”  and “What is the context in which the learner needs to apply this behavior?”  When you approach learning from the learner’s point of view, it is, at first, rather disorienting.  It literally turns your project upside down and forces you to change how you approach it.   For example, if you were to do a lesson on Scholarly v Popular, with content-centered learning, you’d start with, perhaps, a list of characteristics for each.   What happens in real life, though, is that the student is faced with an article and needs to accurately identify it as one or the other.  If this lesson is designed with the learner at the center, it is just like real life:  there’s an article in front of her and she needs to identify it.  She learns by looking closely, making an attempt, and getting feedback.  
It’s actually more difficult and takes more time to design e-learning this way.  It’s also more fun.  In the end, what you’re doing is designing a learning experience rather than composing text.
One last note:  I used a product called ZebraZapps to make this.
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