Today was the last of the “it’s the beginning of the semester let’s have the librarian teach a class!” rush*.  While I’ve got the Evidence Based class with the first year Dentistry students (D1s) weekly and a few other classes scheduled thus far through the semester, it’s a slightly lower level of intensity.

I tried something with the D1s that a couple people asked for further details on so here’s a slightly more formal description.

I’d been tasked with reviewing search strategies with students who will be embracing Evidence Based Practice for the next four years. As they are learning dentistry, they are asked to write term papers, present posters, do research, and consider why exactly they are performing procedures or advising therapies to patients.

One of the things I wanted to check their confidence level on was Boolean search terms.  Interestingly enough, when I asked them to color in three venn diagrams with AND, OR, and NOT–I found that a significant number of them did not mark the overlapping section of the circles for OR searches. One truly can never assume what your students know.

To review Boolean I chose three general terms that applied to the students: gender, clothing color, and hair color. These were all things that were visually available to us in the classroom. And then we started working through combinations.

  • Initially, I made it easy: Male AND Blue AND Brunette.
  • Then we changed all of those to OR and saw that  using OR got us most of the students in the classroom.
  • Then I changed to Male AND Blue OR Brunette.  Now they were less clear. Did the Brunette females stand up? Should the males in green sit down? –Here we could talk about the use of parenthesis and how if it is confusing to them, how they can’t expect the computer to read their mind.
  • Finally we took a different approach–how would I get to certain students?  We used other attributes like glasses, footwear, facial hair, etc to narrow down to one group of students or a select group of students.

We worked through several scenarios and then I had them do a quick pen/paper exercise with parentheses so they could see the various options and figure out what those would actually return. I used Cat, Dog, and Frog as our examples and research paper titles such as “Cats and Dogs are Chasing Frogs” as the article that may or may not be included.

Watching them do the stand up and sit down prompted a lot of thinking, response and discussion amongst the students. They would poke each other with “hey–you’re supposed to be standing” or “you’re not THAT–sit down.”  It gave a break to the first half of the three hour class without disrupting actual learning.

I’m working entirely with graduate students and I’m fortunate in my students: they are cooperative. I’d already met with these Dentistry students at orientation before trying this exercise and I take full advantage of the fact that I’m not dealing with a huge age difference.  I was pleased with how this exercise went.  I’d also tried to do one with PubMed Limits that was less successful–so I’ve written down that I’d like to rework it and now that I have a few minutes to breathe, I’m going to try and figure out what might make it more successful.  Details to follow once I’ve had a chance to test it out on more willing “victims” students.

*Subject to change, I’m sure a professor will ring me tomorrow and want three more classes on Thursday 🙂