Information Literacy Class

Today, Jeanine Williamson and I taught an information literacy class to a group of undergraduate civil engineering students. It happened to be the day the internet was down all over campus. We could not access the library’s website, the databases, or email. Needless to say, this put a crimp in our class, since everything was supposed to be demonstrated online.

My part of the instruction was to deal with Boolean operator searching within the databases. As I thought about how I would teach this information without internet, I thought to myself, “These students are engineering students. They like pictures, and especially Venn diagrams! I’ll use that to demonstrate Boolean logic.” So that’s exactly what I did. I drew a series of Venn diagrams on the chalkboard (yes, this was in an old building, and it still has chalkboards) like this:

 First, I asked if anyone knew what a decentralized wastewater system was. No one knew. So I explained what it was to make the demonstration relevant to their study as a civil engineering student. I also explained that an alternative name for decentralized wastewater systems is onsite wastewater systems. Now I had my A and my B to demonstrate Boolean searching.

  1. First, I demonstrated that when you use “A AND B” it covers just the area of the two circles that overlap, so it reduces your search results considerably.
  2. Then, I demonstrated that when you use “A OR B” it covers the entire area of both circles, so it increases your search results considerably.
  3. Then, I demonstrated that when you use “A NOT B” it excludes the entire area of one circle, and returns the area of the other circle that doesn’t overlap the other circle
  4. Then, I demonstrated that if you use “A OR B NOT (A AND B)” it would return only the areas of the two circles that don’t overlap each other.

Jeanine said they were really into it. It was probably not what they expected, and it was a nice interactive way to demonstrate the power of the Boolean operators.