The Cephalonian Method in Action

by Chelsea Nesvig, Bates Technical College

“How much will it cost me to print a picture of my cat, Florence Nightingale? I want to show my teacher and see if I can bring her in for show and tell.”

As the more than 50 first year nursing students giggled while their classmate read this question from a color-coded index card, I was sold. During the rest of my 30 minutes with them, other students asked preplanned questions on a range of library-related topics – including the one above regarding print costs in the library. They were while subsequently being informed by me about the library and information services available at Bates Technical College in Tacoma, WA. After two or more months of planning, the Cephalonian Method was finally in action!

Upon taking over for a newly retired librarian this past July, I was informed that I would be presenting an orientation session for a new group of practical nursing students on the first day of fall quarter. I was handed discs of previous PowerPoints used during previous sessions. As I glanced through a 42 slide file, I knew I wanted to try something different.

The Cephalonian Method had just entered my consciousness within the previous month, so the timing was fortuitous. It is an active learning technique that takes students from passive listeners to active participants participants in a library orientation session (or any type of orientation session, potentially). Originating in the United Kingdom at Cardiff University, it involves preparing color-coded index cards with questions that you want to answer during a library orientation session[A2] . This allows a randomly selected group of students to ask questions, while the librarian or presenter stands at the front of the class to answer them. During the library orientation session, I randomly distributed the twelve color coded cards. I then called for colors in the order that I wanted them read and prompted students to stand and read their cards when their color was called. I wanted to keep things light and humorous, so I asked questions like: After randomly distributing the twelve cards at the beginning of the session (and giving others blank index cards for note taking), I called for the colors in the order I wanted them read, then prompted that student to stand and read their card. The goal is to keep things light and humorous to keep their attention, so another question read: “My friend said that at his nursing school, the library website has a section that’s just for nursing class info. I dreamed last night that this was true at Bates, too. Do dreams come true?”

Some librarians let a student draw colors from a hat to keep the question order random, but I didn’t want to leave that much to chance for my first session and didn’t necessarily have enough questions for that to be necessary. Music has also been used as students enter the room and during breaks, if they happen. While the Cephalonian Method could be used without accompanying PowerPoint slides, I felt that my slides with the just-asked question at the top and illustrative photos* were very useful for students who are visual learners learn more visually. I took photos of library and campus locations to add to my slides, and kept text to a minimum.

The next challenge will be assessing the long-term effectiveness of this orientation method. I gave students a five minute questionnaire at the end of the session and got positive feedback by asking for the most useful thing they’d learned and what they still had questions about. I also assessed student retention about four weeks after the library session, which was not as successful. An attempt at assessing students’ memory of the material about four weeks post-orientation was not as successful, especially in terms of return of the surveys by students. Improving on that is my next goal. All in all, it was exciting to test this orientation method on the practical nursing students at Bates and I look forward to using it again when a new cohort begins this spring. It is appealing for its not only for its adaptability, but also its interactivity and ability to grab students’ attention.

In the end, if they remembered only one thing from my time with them, I wanted it to be that they could come to the library with questions about anything, so my session concluded with this question: “What if I only remember the picture of Florence Nightingale by the time I get home?” For that, I included library contact information and reminded them of the quotation commonly attributed to Einstein: “The only thing you absolutely need to know is the location of the library.”

*Special thanks to University of Washington iSchool professor Trent Hill for his emphatic instruction on effective slide design.