Bite-Sized Professional Development

Microcourses boost engagement at a library retreat

January 22, 2024

Lorin M. Flores speaking at the 2024 LibLearnX Conference
Lorin M. Flores, instructional services librarian at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi speaks at the "Reimagining an Instruction Librarian Retreat with Microcourses" session at the 2024 LibLearnX conference in Baltimore on January 21. Photo: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries

Small is big in learning, as microcourses become an instructional trend. Microcourses are highly flexible and can be created quickly to provide current information, said Lorin M. Flores, instructional services librarian at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.

Flores described how she incorporated microcourses into professional development in “Reimagining an Instruction Librarian Retreat with Microcourses,” a January 21 ShopTalk session at the American Library Association’s LibLearnX conference in Baltimore on January 21.

The retreat had traditionally been an intensive, day-long, off-campus affair. “The pandemic changed everything,” she said. “People were using Zoom, and they were using their own skills and teaching each other.” That shift created an opportunity to reimagine the retreat.

The library had recently replaced librarian-led instruction sessions for first year students with microcourses—small pieces of instructional content each focused on a single learning outcome. Flores said that experience opened her eyes to the possibilities of microcourses. “If you have courses that are high-volume, if they’re things that you’re teaching repetitively, those might be things where you consider creating microcourses,” she said.

With those factors in mind, the library built last year’s instruction librarian retreat around microcourses.

After conducting a poll to see what skills staff wanted to learn, the organizational team identified five topics: An orientation session, a review of Educause’s Horizon Report of higher education trends, the SWIFT method of evaluating information, how to adapt lessons into active learning activities, and asset-based pedagogies. Thanks to a collaboration with the university’s Instructional Technology department, the library used Articulate’s Rise 360 online training platform to host the courses.

However, “we wanted to plan an experience that wouldn’t just be the content in Articulate,” Flores said. The retreat took place over two weeks in early August, 2023. In the first week, the team released courses, discussion questions, and group and individual activities. In the second week, the team planned one synchronous online discussion per course, created channels in Microsoft Teams for group discussion and projects, and hosted other group activities.

The courses themselves were designed so attendees could work through content in 20 minutes or less. “It makes it a lot more engaging for your learners,” Flores said. Courses incorporated text, graphics, interactivity, and TikTok-length (3 minute or less) videos.

Flores said response to the new format was generally positive, although some commented on timing issues. “The first two weeks of August was the timing that worked,” Flores said, but that also overlapped with preparations for the fall semester. Despite the difficulty of finding open time for professional development, some participants suggested that two weeks wasn’t long enough for the program. “One person actually said they wanted it to last the whole summer,” she said.


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