June 2012 Archives

Redesigning the Nature of Life Handout


The summer before College of Biological Science students start their freshmen year, they do a 1 week intensive retreat at the Itasca research center. A few years ago we were able to get a handout in the resources section of their 3-ring binder. However, over the years, it became out-of-date, and it was a time for a quick refresh, as we only had two days to work on it.

In reviewing past examples, I came up with some things to keep in mind during the redesign. Here are the elements of a good handout, in my opinion:

  • They are not a copy of the slides, rather they supplement the session

  • The handout uses a clear and easily readable type

  • The information naturally flows from one point to another

  • There should be a balance of white space to give the eyes a rest; this also can serve as a note-taking spot

  • Use images

  • Include your contact information

  • Have clear sections or headings, so attendees can follow along with the presentation

  • Where can they go for additional information? Include references, websites, etc.

  • Make the handout part of an activity, if possible. Engage the audience at different points with the handout.

  • Include the date created and contact, for easy updating later

  • Keep it to one page

Here are some of the previous handouts and comments on their design.

NOL1.jpg Design 1. It includes our branding, but was text heavy.

NOL2.jpg Design 2. This is a faculty handout. (I couldn't find the student one quickly, but the same design.) It uses a lot of color and images, and might be a bit too busy. We also found that the folks putting together the packets just photocopy, rather than print from the original file, and used black & white. This quickly degraded the quality of the images and made the contact information hard to read.

Design 3. This is a draft of the content we wanted to include, switching to mostly black and white. Still too text heavy, boring layout and too much white space.

Design 4. This was our final version for this year. The front page has the important information, our contact info and the liaisons the students will mostly be working with while at UMN. Before we have the middle empty, and that was too empty, so we made a word cloud based off of the text on the back and previous handouts. The back is a newspaper advertising-like layout. It has sound bite bits of information, and a few icons to break up the text. We also added a few grey blocks to break up the text as well.

Now on to redesigning for next year, as I will have a year to work on it, rather than dashing something off at the last minute. Also, I would like to work with the library staff at Itasca, to see how they might use the handout as an activity and build around that.

Active Learning Techniques for Librarians


Recently, I have been disappointed by instruction books that are a collection of techniques, but when you boil them down, really it is only a couple of strategies that are just reworded and reworked. That is until today, when I read Active Learning Techniques for Librarians by Andrew Walsh and Padma Inala. This book had an excellent introduction of active learning, and over 50 separate examples that you could implement in the classroom tomorrow. Here are a few of my favorites that I will try this fall:

  • I will do it: ask students to write down 3 things they learned, how they plan to apply the knowledge and a date, and how you will continue learning. Then mail or e-mail the sheets back to the student at an agreed upon time.

  • Lightening the learning climate: Have students 'make fun of' a topic you will cover in class, or the opposite, such as the worst way to find resources for my paper.

  • Poster tours: For group assignments have students create a poster wit htheir thoughts/findings. Then students circulate and write questions on their peers' posters.

  • Start,Stop, Continue: A great way to get feedback midstream, as students to write on post-its what they think you should stop doing, start doing and continue doing.

  • Show Me, tell me: This capitalizes on childhood memories of playdough, and being creative. Have students mold or draw their current stage of the research process/ model/ how they feel about the lit review.

  • Spot the mistake: Have students take notes when you make mistakes (on purpose and not) and then compare with a partner and discuss how they would approach such a mistake.

What I especially appreciated about each learning activity is the author's list common pitfalls, so you can plan for them and not be caught off guard.

Extension Center Meetings


This spring I was able to expand my network, by attending Extension Center-specific conferences and meetings: Youth Development, Family Development, and Community Vitality. These conferences were a great way to hear about future directions of various groups, what current research is going on, and chat with staff, not just educators, about how I can help them more. I can't wait for next year and meeting more staff!

On top of that I was awarded a 6 week leave to work on a survey of Extension staff on their information needs and professional development interests. I am very excited to work with some talented folks in Extension to design the survey and make it happen this fall!