Constructivism and Library Instruction - N. Renee Brown's E

To: Stephen Miller, Director UMUC Library
From: N. Renee Brown, UMUC Library Associate
Date: April 24, 2015
Subject: Constructivism and Library Instruction Sessions
Authors Note
Library instruction sessions are week long online visits by librarians to various classes in the
university. These visits contain modules and an exercise to show students how to begin using the library
for research. Both the modules and the exercise are built off of a standardized template that is reviewed
periodically by staff.
The current Library Instruction Session (LIS) exercise isn’t reaching students; we know this from
responses which contain the same mistakes time after time. Part of the problem may be the lack of
learning theory incorporated into this exercise. Without a theory to base the exercise on, the library
creates a boring and sometimes frustrating experience for both students and librarians. In addition,
students have little motivation to complete this drab exercise unless the instructor has been convinced to
assign a point value for the exercise. Even if students do complete it, it is often perfunctory as points are
awarded on completion, not quality. Yet, by redesigning the current activity based on constructivist
learning theory the library can make use of the knowledge the student brings to class in order to help
educate them about library research.
Constructivist learning theory believes learners build knowledge through experiences and
interactions with their environment and community (Harasim, 2012). Simply put, the instructor uses the
current knowledge of the student to introduce new concepts. With this in mind, an effective constructivist
exercise would need to be comprised of two parts: research and collaboration. The research section
would require study groups (composed of 5 to 6 students) to research specific topics. There will be little
to no instruction on how to go about this, and these topics would be created to illustrate the differences in
types of information available via the web and the library databases. Second, the collaboration section
would require the study groups to create a communal bibliography of their articles. Each member of the
study group would present what they chose and defend it, until the entire group reached a consensus on
whether or not to include the article in question.
Research shows constructivist learning theory builds an environment of engagement, selfreflection, and collaboration (Koohang, Riley, & Smith, 2009). By designing this new exercise with
constructivist learning theory in mind, the library can help create an engaged, self-aware, and
collaborative environment that will carry over into other class assignments.
Two of the largest contributors to online student dropout are isolation and detachment (Bolliger &
Inan, 2012). Students struggle to find a connection in an online world that is faceless and voiceless, yet
studies show that student connectedness can be attained via learning communities and collaborative work,
leading to a much more engaged classroom overall (Robinson, & Hullinger, 2008). Thus, constructivism
eases this sense of isolation by creating an arena of active learning where students participate and act
rather than passively receiving knowledge (Harasim, 2012).
A library exercise based in this theory can encourage students to become an active participant in
their own learning by creating a problem for them to solve (in this case a research question), and then
encouraging discussion on why they chose to solve it the way they did. This active learning exercise not
only engages the student, but creates a sense of community within the classroom as they discuss the
Personal Knowledge/Self-Reflection
Today’s students are often digital natives with a certain level of web-based research experience.
Yet, the library exercise, as it is set up now, does not respect or use that in any way. Instead, librarians
take the research process out of the hands of the student, leaving them frustrated and dependent upon the
librarian (Elmborg, 2002). Often students feel punished for going online to find articles, and are warned
away the net so often that when they could benefit from it they are afraid to use it.
Instead, envision a library exercise which uses student’s personal knowledge helps to build new
research strategies. If the library uses the tools students are comfortable with, such as Google, the
learning activity can lead students from what they know, into library research easily and naturally
(Humrickhouse, 2011). The entire process makes more sense and is less daunting when coming from a
place the student is familiar with.
Collaboration has been called the key to creating a community of learning online (Robinson, &
Hullinger, 2008). Robinson and Hullinger (2008) also found that collaboration empowers and encourages
students to such an extent that it impacts future learning experiences. Thus, including collaborative work
in the library exercise, and encouraging a sharing of knowledge among peers should be paramount. By
requiring a collaborative project to be presented in the class, the library exercise can contribute to future
learning, not only by instilling information literacy tenants but by increasing student confidence as well.
Collaborative learning also helps the librarians by focusing on a group projects instead of
preparing individual responses. This allows the librarian to focus on guiding the groups. The emphasis
here would be on guidance, as librarians have a tendency to answer questions instead of allowing those
questions to help the student take control of the project and make discoveries on their own (Elmborg,
2002). This guidance will likely be much less intensive than the responses currently posted in response
to every student exercise and take less time.
Pilot Program
The library could easily create a pilot program comparing the constructivist exercise to the
current library instruction exercise in two sections of the same class. At the end of the pilot a comparison
of levels and types of participation will be made. In addition, there will be an evaluation of the
completeness/correctness of the group bibliography. Finally, the library can solicit both student and
instructor feedback via a survey. This survey will ask them to evaluate the experience as a whole. If the
constructivist exercise is more successful than the one currently in place, the library could consider
implementing it.
Bolliger, D., & Inan, F. A. (2012). Development and validation of the Online Student Connectedness
Survey (OSCS). The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(3).
Retrieved from
Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technologies. New York, NY: Routledge.
Humrickhouse, E. (2011). Information literacy instruction in the Web 2.0 library. Retrieved from
Koohang, A., Riley, L., Smith, T., & Schreurs, J. (2009). E-learning and constructivism: From theory to
application. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning & Learning Objects, 591-109. Retrieved
Robinson, C. C., & Hullinger, H. (2008). New benchmarks in higher education: Student engagement in
online learning. Journal of Education for Business, 84(2), 101-109. Retrieved from