Tiny AOT: Actor-Oriented Transfer on a Short Timeline

What a whirlwind couple of weeks–the LILAC conference in Nottingham, UK, a few days of fun travel in Denmark, and then jumping back into my students’ preparation for finals week here in Denver. Jet lag on both sides of the “pond,” too!

A number of people have followed up with me on the subject of my presentation on the actor-oriented transfer perspective in the information literacy classroom. About half of the questions have focused on how to apply it given realistic time constraints. Let’s talk about the heart of the actor-oriented transfer perspective (“AOT”) and how we can apply it on a short timeline. The “tiny version” of AOT, so to speak. 🙂

The Foci of AOT

AOT helps us to explore the processes that students use to solve problems on their own. It helps us design strategies to learn more about (1) the step-by-step processes that students design for themselves and (2) the reasoning behind those processes. Even more specifically, it helps us to understand why students decided to follow the steps that they did when they were aware of multiple ways that they could have approached a problem.

Just a reminder, AOT is *not* a method for evaluating student work or assigning scores.

AOT and the “One-Shot” Instruction Session

Many of us library instructors have some mixed feelings toward the one-shot model (where we see students once a semester, for 60 minutes or so). To me, the positive side is that we have that time with them–let’s make the most of it. We can absolutely fit an AOT-inspired activity into that class time, and make it productive for the students and for our own learning. It can also support the relationships that we form with their professors.

My current “short” version of AOT looks like this. It’s a half-sheet of paper that I give to students five or six minutes before the end of class. I always run this by their professor ahead of time, and ask whether they would like to review some major findings a few weeks after class. When I introduce it to the students, I emphasize that this will give them a moment to think about parts of the process that have worked (or not worked) for them. That reflection can support their future success. Additionally, I explain that this will help me identify successful and less-successful aspects of the lesson that I used that day, and to refine them for future classes. Students tend to be altruistic in that way.

The items on my current sheet are:

  1. Describe a resource (article, book, website, etc.) that you found & that you will use in your research. (Tell me about it in a few words.)
  2. How did you find this resource? (2 sentences)
  3. How will this resource support the ideas you share in your research? (2 sentences)
  4. Do you have any questions for me? If so, please share them here, with your email address. (I’ll write back within 2 business days!)

Working through Students’ Responses

Students tend to respond thoughtfully. They pack quite a lot of information into the five or six sentences that typically appear on their sheets. For me as an instructor, this is incredibly beneficial to helping me understand the choices that they made.

Also, good news–working through 25 or 30 AOT-based sheets does not have to take ages. If I’m in data-gathering mode, I can gather meaningful information from a class’s worth of sheets in 60-90 minutes.

Much like researchers who use AOT on the larger scale, I employ emergent coding. Basically, I make notes on the steps that students mentioned (in question 2 on the sheet) and aspects of reasoning that they mentioned (in question 3 on the sheet). I keep track of the frequency of those responses and allow the list to grow as students identify new steps or aspects of reasoning.

As a person with a lot on my plate, I’ll also note: unlike many other classroom tools, I can get a LOT of useful information just by giving these forms a quick read. I can save more in-depth exploration for the summer, when I have more flexible time.

The Beauty of Imperfect Responses

How many of us have met students who learn about a new source of information in class, then turn to JSTOR (or Google) because that’s where they always go? Or those who try to get every piece of information from peer-reviewed articles because those are always the “best” resources? That’s all of us, right? These areas of confusion come through when you use AOT-based tools in the classroom. AOT helps us to identify points at which students made less-effective choices in their processes. It also gives us information on *why* students made those choices. All of this helps to continually improve teaching.

Focusing Phenomena

Last thing–at the presentation, I talked quite a bit about the idea of focusing phenomena (See Lobato 2003 for more information). Focusing phenomena are all the tools and techniques that we use to reinforce what students should focus on in their decision-making. For me, that might mean (a) a section of a lesson plan that helps students with a certain information literacy concept, (b) an activity we use in the classroom to practice that concept, and (c) information on a course guide that they can refer to later.

As a teacher, I can use this idea to communicate with a class’s professor about how they may reinforce a concept later in the semester. I can offer examples of how they may reinforce information literacy skills in lessons or assignments. I can also offer to create or share ideas and materials that they may use.

As a researcher, I investigate the focusing phenomena that have been used to support a particular aspect of students’ information literacy practice. I explore (a) what the students have been told to focus on  and (b) how that has been reinforced. I look for evidence of those messages appearing in students’ performance.

The Good News

You can probably share an AOT-based tool in your classroom in less time than it’s taken you to read this post! Taking this approach can help you to better understand your students’ processes and reasoning, and to redefine your teaching.

AOT is flexible, and you can use its principles to shape many other tools as well. I’ll be interested to see what you come up with! Please feel free to get in touch to share your tools and ideas, and to talk them through as you’re planning.

Thanks for reading. Best wishes for joyful teaching– Karen

Work Cited

Lobato, J. (2003). How design experiments can inform a rethinking of transfer and vice versa. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 17–20.

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