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Teaching topics: Openers and Closers

Did you miss NTO’s free webinar “Teaching Topics: Open and Close with Impact” last Thursday? If you weren’t a part of the 80-strong attendees, have no fear, for a recorded edition is being sliced and diced for our YouTube channel right now.  In the meantime, this post will review several classroom activities & concepts discussed in our webinar. (But not everything! For that you’ll have to wait for the video and/or our next scheduled webinar.)

First off, what is an opener and a closer? These are classroom activities that frame an instruction session.  A popular misconception in instructional metaphor is to think of a class like a sandwich – the opener and closer are the bread, while the content – what you really want folks to learn – is the meat.

This is wrong.

Why? Serial position effect.

Serial position effect is defined as “a tendency for the items near the beginning and end of the series to be recalled best, and those in the middle worst” (1). Serial position effect was coined in the 1910s by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a psychologist who also invented the learning curve. The implications of serial position effect for instruction is that the opening and closing portions of the class are just as important as the meat of your content.

So toss out that learning sandwich, and consider the churro.


The churro is a sugary fried donut item. It is delicious from first bite to last. Churros are long and cylindrical. Towards the middle of your eating experience it may be easy to lapse into a sucrose-sprinkled complacency and forget to appreciate the churro, but once down to the last bite, the churro will live on as a tasty memory. So let’s consider instruction a churro, and openers and closers as your first and last bite. Fresh examples after the jump.

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193 Videos and Counting

Did you know that the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) has a YouTube channel? If you go to YouTube and search for NN/LM, we’ll come up as the first result. The channel includes videos from all eight National Network regions and the NN/LM Training Office.

Here are a few of the greatest hits. You can also subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss the new additions.

Sponsored by NN/LM GMR September 2016


Sponsored by NN/LM MAR; August 31, 2016
Presenter: Miraida Morales, Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University, Library and Information Science. Description: Miraida Morales discussed the challenges of using easy-to-read health materials, such as their high reading level, lack of control or standardization of readability, and problems with readability formulas.


Created by the NN/LM Training Office. Description: What does the year introduced mean in MeSH? What if there are 2 dates or no date? This video will answer these questions and more.

Gagné’s nine events of instruction as demonstrated by cats

Robert Gagné is an educational scholar noted for his work on the nine events of instruction that are necessary for successful learning to occur. It is designed as a framework to be used to design a class. Gagné’s book, Principles of Instructional Design (1992) (1), outlined these nine instructional events on a theoretical and practical level. Today, we will explore these nine events through something to which most librarians can relate: cats. We will also give concrete examples of how these nine events can apply to teaching a PubMed class. Perhaps we will even discover a serendipitous intersection of cats, PubMed, and instructional design theory. Nine lives, nine instructional events, how could this ever go wrong?

Cat acting the fool

Image source:

Click through for Gagne’s nine events and more cats!

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Meet the NTO Staff: Molly Knapp

molly knapp

Molly Knapp

Hello world! My name is Molly Knapp and I am the newest Training Development Specialist at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Training Office. Rest assured, I am no rookie. I’ve worked in academic health science libraries since 2002, specifically in positions that involve instruction, specialized search services, and of course, the occasional shushing.

11 things to know about me:

  1. I  graduated in 2002 from the University of South Florida (Tampa, FL) with a Master of the Arts in Library and Information Science. I was in the first cohort to take an online class in my library school days! ::shakes cane::
  2. My undergraduate degree is  in English and Russian from the University of Florida. Go Gators.
  3. I have worked for libraries at LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans (2002-2012) and Tulane University School of Medicine (2012-2016). As a student I worked at UF’s Smathers library & USF’s Tampa Campus library.
  4. I am a Distinguished Member of the Medical Library Association’s Academy of Health Information Professionals.
  5. I am a 2010 NLM Fellow in Medical Informatics at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. (A free and amazing week long immersion program now held at a lovely resort near Athens, Georgia.)
  6. I currently live in Houston, Texas, spent a long time in New Orleans, & am a 6th generation Floridian by birth.
  7. I have 2 kids, 1 husband and an aging dog.
  8. I enjoy riding bikes, craft beer, losing at fantasy football, and nerdly activities such as gaming and fantasy/sf.
  9. My current favorite NLM/NCBI resource is ToxInvaders, an iOS app that teaches environmental health and chemistry to middle school students.
  10. My research interests include mobile apps, the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy, and emerging technologies.
  11. I do a fair amount of writing on library topics. You can check out a list on my LinkedIn profile.

If you have any comments, suggestions or questions my email is

See you online!

Word Clouds as Discussion Starters

I like word clouds. They help us see what’s important or most prevalent in a block of text. When the NTO was the NTC, we used word clouds to help facilitate a discussion in our PubMed for Trainers class about the core competencies of PubMed.

We asked students: Is there a set of core competencies that all users need to search PubMed effectively? Students posted their answers in a Discussion Board and then we took the text (after we cleaned it up a bit) and put it into the word cloud generator. During class, we displayed the word cloud and used it as a tool to stimulate a class discussion.

We liked this technique because we (the instructors) already knew what the students thought (as displayed by the word cloud), the rest of the class could see if their set of core competencies matched what others thought and we could ask people to elaborate or ask if there were any surprises.

Word Cloud

Three word cloud generator tools:

  3. Google Docs has a word cloud Add-in.

Here’s a short video by Richard Byrne about using the Google Doc Word Cloud add-in. Note, the add-in mentioned in the video has been renamed Tag Cloud.