Library + Blackboard: Seamless Integration at the Course Level

LIBR 220 Final Project

Library: The High School Library at The American School in Japan (ASIJ).
Audience: A group of eleven crucial stakeholders, and potential change agents, in the high school.  This group includes our Principal, Instructional Coach, Technology Assistant, Curriculum Coordinator and the members of our Research Team currently reviewing how the research process is taught at the high school level.  The Research team consist of the High School Assistant Principal, two Social Studies teachers, two English Teachers, the Middle School Librarian and the High School Librarian.  As a member of the team as well, I plan to offer this proposal at an upcoming meeting.
Backstory:  ASIJ adopted Blackboard in 2001. Every active course in the high school curriculum, approximately 170 each semester serving a total of 530 students, has a Blackboard course site.  After opting out of repeated recent upgrades to Blackboard, ASIJ’s planned upgrade for the upcoming school year will represent a major change.

VIDEO PRESENTATION of the following proposal:

Library wide view - Version 2

Flora, 2013

Seamless Integration of Library Support for Research
at the Course and Project Level in Blackboard

A Pilot Project Proposal

Three recent initiatives at our high school present an opportunity to transform how students access the library resources critical to their success in the classroom and, ultimately, in their life beyond high school.

  • Research Promise
    This year, faculty, administration and librarians have re-committed to a newly crafted Research Promise to insure that our high school students will experience ample opportunities to engage in the research process and be well supported in doing so.
  • Culture of Citing
    We are actively promoting a Culture of Citing to instill a habit of crediting sources used in all student and faculty work.  Here the promise is that students will learn the necessity and nuances of citation through thoughtful, differentiated, and timely support and oversight.

    Culture of Citing

    Baker, 2011

  • Blackboard Upgrade
    A long-awaited Blackboard upgrade is in progress for the 2014-15 school year.  A simpler, cleaner Blackboard course shell is being rolled out to faculty.  These student-centered changes, based on a recent survey of student preferences will bring much needed uniformity in layout and use across all courses and disciplines.

The opportunity in the convergence of these initiatives is this:  Our Blackboard upgrade is a chance to more fully realize our Research Promise and Culture of Citation.  Because the Blackboard upgrade is sweeping, involving every teacher making adjustments to their course sites, it is a prime time for the library to strategically situate there as well.  Library resources, designed to support student research and citation, can be woven into Blackboard at the course level.

An Evidence-Based Idea
Academic librarians offer a convincing body of evidence endorsing the seamless integration of library resources into the course sites of online management systems such as Blackboard (Bezet, 2013; Farkas, 2008; Hoffman & Ramin, 2010; York & Vance, 2009).   Many of the findings, from academic studies of student behavior and best practices in embedding library resources in online courses, are directly applicable to our high school setting.  For instance,

  • Librarians have leveraged campus-wide surveys or changes in their course management systems, such as our Blackboard upgrade, to reinvent online library services to better serve students (Daly, 2010; Pickens-French & McDonald, 2013).
  • Close collaborative partnerships, such as ours, that marry the skills and perspectives of faculty, librarians, technology specialists and, in our case, an instructional coach have the greatest chance of success in seamless integration of library resources into online course sites (Bezet, 2013; Shell, Crawford & Harris, 2013).

The main argument for a more seamless integration of library services into Blackboard is that by delivering information literacy instruction — research and citation support among these — within the student’s online classroom, we reinforce face-to-face instruction and provide support at the students’ points-of-need. The recommendations of academic librarians can be our marching orders, knowing that we will be creating learning environments commensurate with those our graduates will encounter in college.

Problems Looking for a Solution
Since the adoption of our 1:1 laptop program three years ago, our library has effectively deployed a classroom embedment model and offered one-on-one reference support on campus, as well as through a variety of virtual methods. Our online learning objects include our project-specific LibGuide research guides, video tutorials, step-by-step text and screenshot tip sheets, citation style and management help and our plagiarism-prevention software.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.01.43 PM

There is room for improvement, however.  We face several problems that are well addressed in the scholarly literature on academic libraries because they are problems not unique to our school.  Looked at from the student’s point-of-view, our current delivery model has three main shortfalls.

  • Problem of Placement
    Our face-to-face instruction and one-on-one assistance can be ephemeral unless we back it up with companion materials that student and faculty can reference handily, wherever and whenever they need it, as a reminder or reinforcement of IL instruction.  Our online support, accessible through a Blackboard Library course on the Blackboard home page, is meant to serve that purpose.  Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that our students do not take advantage of our website nor our Blackboard library course.  The major reason for this is summed up neatly in one of The Project Information Literacy findings.  Librarians are “out of the student research workflow” (Head & Eisenberg, 2009, p. 35).  When not on ASIJ’s physical campus, our students get down to work in their virtual classrooms, their individual course sites in Blackboard.  Our library resources need to be strategically located there.
  •  Problem of Portions
    Students who do navigate to our online resources are often confused and overwhelmed by the unfamiliar organization and sheer volume of the information that they find there.  In short, we serve up portions of support that are just too much.  Smaller portions of customized library content, served up at just the right time, is a better way to help students over the hurdles in the research process.
  • Problem of Priorities
    The Project Information Literacy (2009) study found that students prioritized convenience and their “go-to” methods over library resources.  But, when tackling a course-assigned research project, they utilized course materials first, because those resources were “inextricably tied to the course and the assignments, were at hand, and were sanctioned by the instructor”  (Head & Eisenberg, 2009, p. 15).  Library resources appear to lack relevancy when they stand outside of the online course site where teachers post course assignments and resources.  But seamless placement of library resources within assignment instructions on Blackboard would stamp them with the imprimatur of course-required content. 

Proposed Solution:  Pilot Seamless Integration
How do we close the gap between our library resources and the online environment where students routinely access their assignments?  Over the past couple of weeks, I have formulated ideas about a more seamless integration of library resources into Blackboard course sites.  In addition to my review of the literature on best practices, these ideas were shaped particularly by:

  • Duke University’s pilot project of Blackboard embedment and the use of LibGuides (Daly, 2010).
  • Conversations with Glenda, our instructional coach, and Ritu, our technology assistant, about the Blackboard makeover and the possibilities of a shift in the library’s place within it.
  • Current training, along side faculty, as we all learn about the new Blackboard course shell in work sessions with Glenda and Ritu.

Streamlined Tools View

The new Blackboard course shell mirrors best practices in the library literature. Our new streamlined template is designed to ease the student user’s cognitive load by setting a uniform standard in layout and use by faculty across all courses.  The course shell has been pared down to include only a minimal number of tools, including Content, Resources and Announcements.

The proposed approach to library integration into the new Blackboard layout would focus on courses with major research projects. Taking advantage of the new Blackboard course shell, we could use the Resources, Content and Announcement features in the following ways, to funnel customized research and citation support directly into the course sites.

The Resources tool can be used for long-term research, such as the AP Environmental Science Research Project or the new AP Capstone Project, where students need to refer to customized LibGuide research guides and citation help, such as Noodletools and Turnitin continuously throughout the course.

BB Resources View

The Content area can be used for shorter research projects.  Here, library resources, such as LibGuides and citation support can be embedded with the assignment description when it is loaded at its appropriate time in the course calendar.  Examples of these sorts of short-term research projects would be Psychology Topics and 9th grade I-Search projects, which both last for several months, and quick immersion research such as the Modern World History Revolutionary Movement exploration.

BB Content View

The Content area would also be the appropriate place for delivering standing learning objects that reinforce face-to-face classroom instructional sessions.  Following every classroom session, a help sheet or tutorial recap of the major take-aways can be loaded into the appropriate assignment area within the Content section.  Database tip sheets are a good example of this.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.28.31 PM

The Announcements section can be a powerful platform to quickly broadcast what we call “push and pull” assistance.  Push support is information, like tip sheets, that librarians think of as important for students.  Pull support comes directly from student queries.  By shaping our answers into brief tips or reminders that are shared out in Announcements, all students benefit from the questions posed by their classmates.  Good recent examples of answers to queries that would benefit a wider audience were 1) confusion over Chicago style endnotes and footnotes and 2) questions about citations for a Japanese Book Trailer assignment.

All of these examples demonstrate how library resources can seamlessly appear, in the student’s online workspace, as relevant course content and indeed assignment directives from teachers.  Other Blackboard features, such as the hide and auto-timed release options, can be strategically employed to store and unveil content at crucial points in the course calendar.

Timed Release BB

Implementation Tasks and Considerations 

For this pilot to succeed, faculty and librarians need to work together to situate library resources and tips on course sites where and when they would have the greatest impact for student success in research-rich projects.   The first order of business would be to clarify the focus of the pilot and engage faculty accordingly.   I suggest that a good starting place for greater integration on Blackboard would be in the research-intensive courses that we currently support.  The library would need to confer with teachers of those courses, explain the pilot and seek their buy-in.  Building on a pre-existing collaborative relationship and being well-versed partners in new Blackboard layout will go a long way in minimizing hesitancy.

Once that is accomplished, we would need to inventory our current learning objects.  Curriculum mapping of research projects is already underway.  Matching our existing learning objects to research projects will help us reveal gaps and make necessary refinements.  In collaboration with the teachers, we would need to develop a master schedule that accounts for the details of the assignment, deadline peaks and overlaps, and identifies crucial points for delivering library support.  Since librarians already have administrative access to course sites, the pilot would be a chance to experiment with a more active, and helpful, participation on the part of librarians.  Teacher and librarians can set benchmark dates for debriefing about the ease and efficacy of their shared administration of the course site.

Over time, with a more responsive posture to “push” and “pull” information needs of both our faculty and students, we’ll be developing more learning objects.  Combined with our initial inventory, we will have the makings of a repository of learning objects from which to draw, improving our flexibility, turn-around time and scalability.

Assessment of the pilot project will be critical.  Fortunately, both Blackboard and LibGuides have built-in analytics that we can take advantage of at different points in the year.  A survey of students and faculty use and perceptions will be important.  We will have six months of LibGuides analytics from this 2013-2014 school year and a 2013 student preference survey of Blackboard to compare with 2014-2015 data from our pilot study.  In addition, we are currently conducting a citation analysis of student work from our 9th grade I-Search project final papers and our 12th grade Japan Seminar Final Paper.  We will do the same at the end of this pilot project for a useful comparison.   By looking closely at student work, we can evaluate how students applied the skills we hoped to instill.  It may also help us further refine seamless integration of library resources into Blackboard at the course-level as an effective strategy toward realizing our Research Promise and Culture of Citing.


Baker, G. (2011, December). Creating a culture of citing [Digital poster]. @ASIJ, Tokyo.

Bezet, A. (2013). Free prize inside! Embedded librarianship and faculty collaboration at a small-sized private university. The Reference Librarian, 54(3), 181-219.

Daly, E. (2010). Embedding library resources into learning management systems: A way to reach Duke undergrads at their points of need. College & Research Library News, 71(4), 208-212.

Farkas, M. G. (2008). Embedded library, embedded librarians: Strategies for providing reference services in online courseware. In S. K. Steiner & M. L. Madden (Eds.), The desk and beyond: Next generation reference services (pp. 53-64). Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Flora, F. (2013, September). [Image of the High School Library]. @ASIJ, Tokyo.

Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2009, December 1). Lessons learned: How college students seek information in the digital age (Project Information Literacy Progress Report). The Information School, University of Washington.

Hoffman, S., & Ramin, L. (2010). Best practices for librarians embedded in online courses. Public Services Quarterly, 6(2-3), 292-305.

Pickens-French, K., & McDonald, K. (2013). Changing trenches, changing tactics: A library’s frontline redesign in a new CMS. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 7(1-2), 53-72.

Shell, L., Crawford, S., & Harris, P. (2013). Aided and embedded: The team approach to instructional design. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 7(1-2), 143-155.

York, A. C., & Vance, J. M. (2009). Taking library instruction into the online classroom: Best practices for embedded librarians. Journal of Library Administration, 49(1/2), 197-209.


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