Friday, January 18, 2008

Teaching Students about Subscription Databases

I had a great experience yesterday involving one of our best teachers.

Bob Winkler teaches English at Redwood and has brought his students to the library many times over the years. Though Bob has a reputation as being cautious in relying too much on technology for teaching and learning, he has really started to see how our subscription databases can help in his classes.

Bob has three 10th grade English classes (not honors) who are reading Macbeth and he wanted them to find a "real" piece of literary criticism about the play to use as they were reading and develop a deeper understanding of the play from what another author had to say about it. There are about 80 students in the three classes.

Previously they had read Oedipus Rex and he had given them pre-selected critical essays from Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex and another book of essays about Sophocles in general which the library had in its collections. This was to introduce them to the type of work they would later be finding on their own. Many of the students were able to use ideas they had gleaned from the essays in a Socratic discussion they had following the reading of the play.

Bob saw the next step as having students find and use critical essays on their own.
He developed an assignment that gave me the chance to show students how to search three of the library subscription databases: EBSCO's AP Source, ProQuest Learning: Literature, and Questia. Each of these requires slightly different approaches and gives quite different results.

Over about forty minutes the students and I we were able to explore in pretty great depth some search strategies, ways of saving information, setting up individual accounts, and so forth.

Following my presentation, Bob immediately took each class to an open computer lab and had them start setting up their accounts and searching on their own. From the on-going feedback I've gotten from him and some his students, they have been very successful in finding the kind of material he wants them to use. He's going to send me a list of the essays they have used and we will follow this assignment up with an intensive on the proper citing of sources.

Among many things I admire about Bob is his attitude toward collaboration. We both retain a certain humility about what we do and can provide to students. He is the expert on using the texts to help students better understand what they are reading, I am able to help them find the texts they need to accomplish that task.

And to top it off he sent me a thank-you note! I want to thank Bob publicly for making my job rewarding and giving his students a great classroom experience which they really do appreciate.

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