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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2014

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There's an App for That

Apps in the Classroom

Mia Tignor
Emerging Technologies Librarian

Kendra Auberry
STEM Librarian

Indian River State College
Fort Pierce, Florida

How do you involve students in courses like landscaping and interior design where they usually do not have instructional research sessions? There's an app for that! Librarians at Indian River State College (IRSC) in Fort Pierce, Florida have incorporated app sessions that showcase industry-specific applications in instructional research sessions. With the support of an IMLS Sparks! Ignition Grant in 2013, IRSC implemented two related initiatives. "From STEM to Sternum" is a program that fosters the digital literacy skills of students involved with STEM concepts. The IRSC Digital Literacy Lab (DLL)supports "From STEM to Sternum" and is a transportable collection of tablets which are usable during instructional sessions. In addition to presenting opportunities for active learning, the DLL also allows librarians to introduce information evaluation techniques in a format that is more accessible to students. Together, these two initiatives reposition mobile devices as learning objects for the next generation of graduates.

Apps as an information source

An application (app) is simply a piece of software which runs on a computer or mobile device. Apps control the type and method of information being shared in a particular situation and so at their simplest are mechanisms for obtaining and sharing information. This intersection is the connection point for librarians--we are all about assisting students with their information needs! Introducing students to credible applications that support their study not only allows for more interactive sessions, but also helps fill critical gaps in digital literacy skills.

"From STEM to Sternum" is a scalable and replicable instructional program that can be implemented at any institution that sees a need for increased digital literacy instruction. The program is delivered through synchronous face-to-face and virtual sessions and is supported by a corresponding web page on the IRSC LibGuides (a content management system) that provides asynchronous access to the applications used in the sessions.

Some "From STEM to Sternum" sessions are created around specific needs of students and faculty members, and can be replicated through different semesters. Other general sessions introduce students and staff to cloud computing, the differences between tablets, and other basic digital literacy concepts. Devices from the DLL are pre-loaded for the sessions with a selection of apps curated by IRSC librarians and faculty members. In both types of sessions, apps are chosen for their credibility and usefulness for specific groups. For example, apps presented at a college-wide nursing fair were selected to introduce students to mobile information sources created by professional and governmental organizations. Apps created by these organizations tap into the same credible information sources that librarians teach as access points in information literacy sessions.

Apps introduce active learning strategies into the classroom

Much research has been conducted regarding learning styles and the varied needs of a dynamic student population. Lecture-based class sessions are not the right fit for many of our students, and instructors in virtually all disciplines are being encouraged to incorporate active learning opportunities into their classrooms. App activities provide a perfect framework to help librarians and instructors meet this goal. They provide a hands-on approach to a specific skill while simultaneously keeping course content relevant by allowing students to engage digitally with the material.

Allowing students to manipulate mobile devices in conjunction with digital literacy concepts increases the quality of instruction by engaging them in active learning techniques. It also repositions mobile devices as a key element in the learning process. Students who do not have access to mobile computing devices have an opportunity to interact with devices to which they may be exposed in a professional setting. Students who already own smartphones and tablets are able to create a connection to academic success with devices that they may have previously used only for leisure activities. Despite the fact that over 90% of attendees to our sessions owned a smartphone, tablet, or eReader, only 40% had engaged with their devices to assist with college coursework, and 30% had used their device in a professional setting, which illustrates that even those students with devices were not aware of the ways their devices could assist them academically.

App activities tested at Indian River State College

The DLL (which includes 30 iPad Minis) has enabled librarians to introduce app activities into one-shot instructional research sessions and into open workshop settings. Some of the most successful sessions are presented in detail below. More information including handouts, promotional materials, learning objectives, and sample documents used is available at {}.

Response from faculty and students

An option to include an apps activity was included on the instructional research session request form for faculty at the beginning of Spring 2014 semester. Of 90 faculty members who requested instruction, 82% requested a short apps session in the Spring and Summer semesters. The response to these sessions has been positive. Faculty members reported that they were pleased to see their students more engaged during instructional sessions. They also appreciated having technology integrated into the classroom setting in a new way. Students welcomed the integration of mobile devices that they were encouraged to use throughout the session, and many requested longer, more detailed sessions for the future.

To date over 400 students, staff, and faculty have attended sessions for "From STEM to Sternum." Additionally, resources and activities addressed through the IRSC DLL are accessible and marketed through IRSC's RiverLife, a closed social networking site to which 19,188 students have access. Future sessions will target Lifelong Learning participants and community members utilizing IRSC libraries.

Students expressed surprise at the variety of applications available for academic and professional use and were interested in the differences between devices. Many students were often observed downloading apps onto their own devices at the end of class, and several offered their own suggestions for apps either at the sessions or through the survey.

Moving forward

The Spring 2014 semester offered the opportunity to introduce app evaluation and exploration into instructional research sessions. As the librarians advance the initiatives, goals include refining the learning objectives of each activity to closely tie to class concepts, and expanding the number of hands-on activities across multiple disciplines. Successes with "From STEM to Sternum" and the DLL in courses without a traditional research project showed that faculty members are ready and willing to partner with librarians to introduce their students to digital and information literacy topics, and several faculty have already requested a continuation of the program both in the Fall 2014 semester and beyond. By engaging students and faculty with the devices that they already use for leisure, librarians are able to create a clear link between academic success, STEM concepts, and their personal technology.

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