Experiments in using LibGuides for teaching

I’m experimenting this year with using LibGuides deliver teaching materials and activities, instead of printing handouts. This year we’ve rolled out our single Library Search (Primo) which makes searching a lot easier, so my rather detailed and prescriptive handouts from last year were obsolete.

We’ve taken to LibGuides quite enthusiastically here, so we have a range of subject Library Guides (as we’re calling them), along with more specialist guides relating to for example, government publications or referencing.

First approach

I started trying to use LibGuides more interactively last year, using the comments facility on boxes to get feedback from activities. This session was to support second year students in dissertation preparation and was the last in a series of three sessions I ran. I set up a page focussing on evaluating web sites, containing evaluation criteria and links to sites I wanted students to look at and asked them to put their thoughts in the comments boxes. It worked surprisingly well and was a great way to get feedback from a group of over 60 students. There was the odd person posting flippant comments, but it actually made it more entertaining!


What worked

  • This was a fun session to run. They are tried and tested examples which I know will provoke a reaction.
  • It was good to be able to get a whole group of 60 + interacting with each other, both by working in small groups and feeding back on the LibGuide and thus interacting across the group.
  • I was quite happy with how the students evaluated the sources and they surprised me with their view on the bias of the BBC!

What didn’t work

  • For once I have to say I was pretty happy with how the session went, although it didn’t go quite as well this year (see below).
  • I did have some issues with students posting some borderline offensive comments anonymously about another student in the room. I chose not to moderate comments and this would have slowed down the ‘real time’ interaction, so this is one of the potential hazards. I’ll give stronger advice next time ensuring comments are appropriate. Having a colleague on hand to delete any offensive comments would be handy.
  • The second time I tried this it didn’t work quite as well. Unfortunately the lecturer wasn’t there to assist in the session and it’s amazing how different the level of engagement is when they aren’t there. Could be the nature of a different group but who knows!

Second approach

This year I tried using LibGuides in a different way – to replace the usual handouts and to provide a focus for activities during the session. I was teaching Stage 1 Undergraduate library induction sessions and I created a separate LibGuide for each subject session I was running. The guides were private, which meant the guide could only be accessed by a direct link.

I introduced the guide which started with a question for students to rate their information skills. As I went through my presentations/demonstrations, I guided students through the sections of the guide for the hands-on activities. The activities included links to resources and questions to answer using those resources.


I designed the questions in order to ensure students learned specific skills eg how to find the shelfmark for a book, how to access an e-book, but also to try to get them thinking about the resources. For example, I’d had feedback from lecturers that students didn’t know the difference between a textbook and other types of book that present research/opinion etc, so I got students to read the descriptions of the books to find this out, which also hopefully teaches them how to find out information about the resources at the same time.


What worked

  • The initial question about rating their information skills was interesting. Very few rated themselves as ‘brilliant’ or ‘abysmal’, with the results split between the middle two responses of ‘Pretty good’ or ‘I get by’. Surprisingly, ‘I get by’ had the edge, suggesting the Google Generation isn’t overly confident as we often assume (ok this is just a brief indicator!).
  • It was useful to be able to refer to the responses to questions as we went through the session. It provided some way of testing student learning.
  • The questions were created using LibGuides ‘poll’ tool, which means that it doesn’t give answers. This works well for use during a session as you can just present the responses and give the answers verbally. This wouldn’t work so well if you wanted to use this more as a standalone online tutorial.
  • I saved a few trees by not having any handouts!
  • Student feedback was pretty positive to the sessions, while I appreciate the limitations of feedback at the end of a session, no-one said they felt they needed a handout and most were happy with the session. (I actually do feedback on short paper slips rather than online strangely!)
  • I could update the guides immediately if I needed to, enabling me to respond to feedback quickly.

What didn’t work

  • For the first session I had also added a WallWisher widget to the guide encouraging students to share their usual/favourite information sources. This didn’t work too well in the first sessions – a couple of students used the wall to say ‘hi’, but I had some feedback to say they wanted ‘less of the stickies’, so I decided to drop it for now. I know colleagues have had more success with this, so perhaps I need to persevere.
  • I overestimated the students’ abilities to move back and forwards between browser windows – they needed to keep the LibGuide in one window while exploring resources.
  • Few students bookmarked the LibGuide so I had to leave the address up on a flipchart.
  • There was some confusion between the LibGuide I was using for the session and the subject Library Guide I was asking them to explore.
  • I would have preferred the sessions to be more interactive. Students tended to work individually, interacting with the screen despite being asked to work together.

Thoughts for the future

I think I’ll keep trying this approach for working with large groups and it works particularly well for the evaluation sessions. I don’t think I’ll go back to printed handouts as they just aren’t needed anymore. I’ll carry on using LibGuides as the basis for the sessions but I want to work on getting more interaction going between the students and between myself and the students. As I become more familiar working with undergraduates I’m sure that will happen.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has tried similar things – what worked / didn’t work for you?

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