UW-Madison Libraries Support of Comm A & B – Instructional Continuity Services & Looking Toward the Future

March 30, 2021

It’s been a year since the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries provided critical support as the campus transitioned to an entirely remote learning environment – in just twelve days. With deep experience in enhancing information literacy and lifelong learning skills, the Libraries’ roles in innovating instructional and research continuity were essential.

Successful remote instruction requires careful planning, restructuring, and redesigning the basics of the course. The teaching approach must focus on what works best for students in the new environment. 

Our instruction Librarians are skilled and agile, enabling them to meet the needs of more than 30,000 learners each year. For more than two years, the Libraries proactively anticipated online instruction growth as they prepared to support fully online certificates and undergraduate and graduate degree programs. As a result, they were well-positioned to serve campus when classes moved online.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, the Libraries created a critical foundation for continuing instruction for thousands of undergraduate students. They provided embedded librarian support for instructors, including for required undergraduate courses such as Comm A & B. 

“A” Reboot in the Face of COVID-19

Comm-A, taught in partnership with teaching librarians, orients students to the library system, introduces them to college-level research skills, and develops strategies to find quality information sources. In 2019-20, there were 336 sessions for 5,080 learners, who engaged in two parts: Sift & Winnow: Libraries@UW, a multimedia library skills tutorial, followed by a classroom session with a librarian. In Spring 2020, the Libraries developed a Comm A Sift & Winnow “reboot.” The enhanced online tutorial was based on student learning assessments over five years. While the updated tutorial was nearly complete before the pandemic, the revised learning outcomes, robust, interactive, and restructured content, and updated graphics served as an ideal segue to the fully online module necessary during the pandemic. 

Librarian Renee Croushore scans page requests for students and faculty.

Building on experience from teaching Comm-A online, librarians quickly transformed material used for in-person content to develop material for all online summer classes. 

“Our goal was to meet the high expectations of our in-person session, include a robust librarian role in each course section, and ensure a dynamic, interactive experience for students,” says Sheila Stoeckel, Director, Teaching & Learning Programs at the Libraries. “In summer, fall, and spring, we had a librarian embedded remotely in each Comm-A section via Canvas.”

Librarians engaged students with discussion boards, individually through text or brief videos, and tailored research skills content to meet assignment needs. 

“Based on the assessment from instructor feedback, the librarian role became even more robust this spring,” says Stoeckel. “For example, in English 100 sections, librarians are meeting each instructor virtually to offer customized assistance and content.”

The intensive librarian support quickly garnered appreciation from instructors and students:

“The Sift & Winnow module is excellent; it is comprehensive and attractive. It effectively elaborates on the skills students need to narrow, search for, and evaluate sources. Each page is beautiful and packed with information.”

“Having [librarian suggestions of databases and search terms] in writing on Canvas for the students to refer back to as they were researching may have actually been even more effective than the in-person version of the 2nd library visit because the students weren’t relying only on their memories and notes after the fact. As always, the library did a fantastic job of meeting our students’ needs. Thank you!”

“One of the most important things I have learned is that librarians are actually very precious resources of information for us students when we are looking for articles related to the research question.”

“Information Literacy is articulated as a UW-Madison Essential Learning Outcome (ELO),” notes Eliot Finkelstein, an Instruction Coordinator with the Libraries. “The lifelong learning competency is increasingly visible, as it focuses on honing the ability to find, evaluate, and use information in a society where information grows exponentially, and skills necessary for research and civic participation is critical.” 

The Libraries have strong collaborations with hundreds of Comm-A & B course instructors each year. In 2015, the Libraries were awarded a sizeable Educational Innovation grant to modernize the instruction’s online portion. This grant led to the first locally developed, award-winning Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) on campus. In 2020, librarian Finkelstein received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service to the University for his outstanding collaborative work with the ESL department’s Comm-A instructors. The Libraries’ achievements have been showcased regularly in the General Education Committee report to UAPC and during the last round of campus accreditation. 

Information literacy serves as a strong foundation for a student’s academic achievement and a lifetime of information consumption. In addition to supporting Comm A courses, Librarians also used their expertise to contribute to Comm B courses.

Exempt from wearing a face mask while working alone in her closed own office in Vilas Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stacy Forster Benedict, a faculty associate in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, leads an online virtual session with students from her Curb magazine production class during the first day of classes on Sept. 2, 2020. Adhering to Smart Restart safety protocols that includes physical distancing and the indoor wearing of face masks, the UW-Madison campus is reopening for the Fall 2020 semester during the global coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Planning for “B” – Instructional Continuity Throughout the Disciplines  

Comm-B, another information literacy requirement, is frequently taught in partnership by teaching librarians and focuses on discipline-specific communication skills. In 2019-20 there were 267 sessions for 5,618 learners.

“During COVID-19, the Libraries provided instructional services through online strategies. Librarians taught online synchronous sessions via Blackboard and Zoom while giving support asynchronously through Canvas modules, recorded video presentations, and embedded research guides,” shares Barbara Sisolak, Science and Engineering Librarian. “Librarians used technology tools and platforms to move all library instruction online with our e-learning staff’s help.”

Through hundreds of courses across campus, librarians supported instructors and thousands of students as they transitioned from in-person instruction to online modules. 

For example, Librarians supported Biology 152 (1,364 students a year) by providing information literacy instruction to the class’s lab portion. The librarians’ forward-thinking, continuous assessment, and intentional improvement for this core course meant that in January 2020, staff were planning for an innovative hybrid information literacy instruction approach scheduled for fall 2020. Because of this, the Libraries were preparing for COVID-19 instructional shifts almost without realizing it, allowing for implementation in fall 2020 and repeated use in spring 2021.

As one student noted through an evaluation, “Someone busted their entire mind, body, and soul on this website, very clean, very interactive, kinda fun.” 

In courses like Engineering 397, librarians provide information literacy guidance to 560 students a year. Before COVID-19, most classes were face-to-face. However, after COVID-19, classes transitioned to online synchronous and asynchronous modes. Prior experience of having some Engineering 397 taught online before COVID-19 allowed the librarians to quickly and efficiently pivot to online instructional solutions for all sections when the pandemic hit.

Members of the Comm-B Assessment Community of Practice explored inclusive and accessible practices. The pivot of library instruction to an online environment gave this work added importance. The project helped librarians be intentional about diversity among students and reduce barriers to learners’ participation. This effort demonstrates the Libraries’ social justice, equity, inclusion, and accessibility values in action. 

A student wears a mask as part of the Safer Badgers protocol while studying inside of Engineering Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during winter on February 8, 2021. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Looking Forward Post Pandemic

Remarkably, the Libraries’ Comm-A and B instructional support in 2020-2021 was at a similar level as in 2019-2020. The Libraries are looking forward to offering information literacy instruction in all modalities well into the future.

What we’ve learned in the past year informs deeper involvement for the future engagement with Canvas Library Hub and Embedded services. This upcoming fall, the Libraries will implement its LTI Canvas Library Hub, which will embed library resources and expertise into each course, allowing us to enhance interactions beyond one-time instruction to customized just-in-time support.

As the Libraries look to the future, our strategic direction on Engaging in Educational Innovation will drive additional initiatives in this area. Our instruction will continue to evolve with new models and activities, using the online strategies gained in the past year to strengthen our efforts, giving our students and instructors the most robust, unique, and high-quality experience expected at UW-Madison.