7 tips for increasing student engagement with academic induction


One for the Academic Librarians, this. It's Week 1 of the new academic year at my institution, which means one thing: Induction. I've looked after a lot of Departments in my relatively short time as an Academic Liaison Librarian, and have tried constantly to hone induction and make it more interesting - below are the seven most productive changes I've made to how things work.

That said, one thing I've learned for sure is one size does NOT fit all, and what works for the culture of one Department might not work for another. So have a look at these, see if you think any of them might be useful, and ignore the ones which aren't.

When I think back to my student days, I remember having ZERO interest in Library induction. For the BA I went on the tour, for the MA I went to a lecture - but in neither case was I at all engaged. And that's how almost every student naturally is. It's really helpful to think about this properly - not as a librarian, but as a prospective student who has no idea of the value of what they're about to hear. How do you get that across? How do you relate what you're saying to their real world? Essentially, how do you shake then out of their indifference?

1. Don't tell them everything, open a dialogue

It's tempting to unleash the full fury of Everything There Is To Know About The Library (particularly if you only get one session with a particular group of students) but there's only so much you can cram in before it all becomes overwhelming. Better to pick some key messages and focus on getting engagement for them.

The brain can hold on to 5 or 6 new things at time, 7 if you're super-clever, so a lot of my sessions are literally called things like 'Six Useful Things for [Department] Students' - and they leave a lot out. I either then put other vital information in a booklet / handout, or make sure it's all available via the main online link I give them, the Subject Guide for their Department.

You want to open a dialogue in Induction - ensuring the students come back to you, or to the Library, or to the various online spaces, for more when they need it.

2. Don't JUST tell them about the Library, talk about other useful things too

This has been a revelation for me. I tell my students about a mixture of non-library things (for example filter-bubble free searching via DuckDuckGo, social media dashboards and the students guide to social, useful services like Zetoc, networks like Academia.edu, useful tools like Evernote - AND I tell them about the Library, about JSTOR, and all the regular stuff. The result is hugely improved feedback scores compared with my previous 'library only' inductions, and, amazingly, the thing they rate as MOST useful is the business about JStor and the Subject Guides. I think the students are more engaged overall because there's a feeling of 'he's not just telling us what he knows, he's telling us what WE need to know' and so they take note of the Library-related stuff more than they would otherwise. It smuggles it in.

(See an example of presentation which takes into account points 1, 2, 5 and 6 of this list.)

3. Scheduling really matters: move teaching BACK!

If you have any say at all in when your teaching happens, move it back. For some of my Departments I can't get this changed; it's embedded in certain parts of certain modules and needs to stay there. But for the rest, Week 4 is the earliest I teach.

Imagine being in Week 1 of your first year at University. You're in a new city, making new friends, finding out where you're going to LIVE - why on earth would anyone talking about how to find journal articles even register? Information literacy is undoubtedly useful, but it must be given MEANING and agency by a real life context. For example, just after the first assignment has been set. Then you really do need to know how to find and use the resources.

4. Make an interactive map

We no longer run tours of the Library, so we've found that students like the presentation to show where things are geographically, which works best in a Prezi. It's also easier for them to check back on areas of interest in their own time later.

There's a general Interactive Map of the Library, then most of us Academic Liaison Librarians take it, copy it, and adapt the copied version for our specific Department. Here's the specific History of Art map I used in an Induction session today.

If you want to make your own interactive map, all you need is a Prezi account and a PDF of your Library floorplans. There's a blogpost about what to do next, here.

5. Summarise with a Random Slide Challenge

A Random Slide Challenge uses volunteers to summarise your session for you, using slides they've never seen before - there's more on the mechanics of it here, see tip 3. I find it's a great way to end the session; everyone leaves smiling, and there's a genuine benefit for students seeing their peers sum up rather than just hearing me say the same things all over again.

Be warned though; you need enthusiasm, and prizes, to make this work! And numbers. I once had a session with only about 10 people in and couldn't get any volunteers, everyone was just too self-conscious in such a small group.

6. Make materials available online, after or during

We use Prezi, Slideshare and Scribd to make materials available - and all of these get embedded in our Departmental Subject Guides (LibGuides) as appropriate. It means students can refer back to what they missed, it means they stumble across them via Google searches, and it means if you have a link-heavy booklet students are using in the session, they can click the links rather than typing them in.

7. Check last year's feedback first

I know this is ridiculously obvious but I only started doing it last year.

Prior to that, I would check feedback right after a teaching session, and then I wouldn't look it again until one year later, to compare it with that year's feedback. Now, I go back over all the feedback just before creating my new year's materials and ALWAYS learn something useful which I use to revise the new content. Each Department has different styles and needs, too - it's helpful to be explicitly reminded of that by reading all the comments about what worked and what didn't the previous time the session ran.


BONUS TIPS: Some Twitter Wisdom

I asked my network on twitter for some more tips, and here they are.

Any more suggestions? Add them in a comment below.