Book Reviews

Mary Francis. The Fun of Motivation: Crossing the Threshold Concepts (Publications in Librarianship No. 71). Chicago, Ill.: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2017. 184p. $48.00 (ISBN 978-0-8389-8933-3).

Book cover for The Fun of Motivation: Crossing the Threshold Concepts

The purpose of Mary Francis’ book is to make a persuasive case in favor of bringing fun into library instruction in an academic setting and to provide a structured approach for doing so that is rooted in the ACRL Threshold Concepts. Mary Francis is an associate professor of library science as well as a reference and instruction librarian at Dakota State University. The book is a pragmatic-minded, approachable volume designed to introduce readers to the benefits of including fun as an element in instructional design and the theories underlying fun as a motivational tool, as well as provide a set of example lesson plans that integrate fun and specifically address the ACRL Threshold Concepts.

Following an introduction that lays out the scope of the volume and the author’s path toward writing it, the book is arranged in two sections: Part I: Background and Theory, which introduces the reader to the role of fun in learning; and Part II: Fun as a Means of Motivation, which lays out a practical approach to using fun in instruction. A final conclusion reiterates the book’s core message: that fun is a useful tool in the instruction librarian’s kit and can bring concrete benefits.

Part I, chapter 1: Motivation of Students focuses on and summarizes the psychological and behavioral theories of motivation, including the ARCS and MUSIC models for creating motivation in students during instruction. Chapter 2 breaks down what the author means when she talks about “fun” as an instructional element, offers supporting arguments in favor of fun as an intentional part of instructional design, and introduces the reader to the three kinds of instructional fun she intends to discuss: humor, games, and group work. Chapter 3 goes on to focus on humor specifically, including its benefits; its potential to create positive connections between students and instructor and between the students and the content; and things to consider when using humor in a lesson plan. Chapter 4 looks at games, gamification, and game design elements that can be used in instruction and provides a short overview of the research on games in learning. Chapter 5 looks at the myriad forms that group work can take and offers a brief summary of the theory behind group work.

Part 2 begins with chapter 6, and this and each of the following chapters provides arguably the most immediately useful content in the book. Each chapter takes one of the six ACRL Threshold Concepts and applies each of Francis’ three kinds of fun to it in the form of a fully realized lesson plan: one incorporating humor, one using games, and one using group work. Each lesson plan includes a clearly stated objective, a “procedures” section including materials and processes, methods for assessment, and a section on modifications and accommodations. Between the three plans for each of the six threshold concepts, the book includes 18 total lesson plans useful in a variety of instructional contexts. And while each lesson plan may not be usable in its entirety in every situation, they’re designed to be adaptable to many scenarios and to offer ideas applicable to any lesson plan. These lesson plans make this volume a particularly useful resource. The bibliographies for each chapter offer a compelling source of further reading on each topic and cover the breadth of the book’s arguments thoroughly.

Francis makes clear during the course of the book that in including fun in instructional design, it is not her intention to ask the librarian to become an entertainer or comedian in addition to a teacher. “There is a point in the learning process when the content becomes unfamiliar and the learner becomes uncomfortable” (12). The point of including fun as a key element of the lesson is to help students cross this gap in their understanding and to help them connect with the concepts and ideas the lesson presents.

Francis leaves one compelling argument in favor of fun for the very end of the book, noting that, in addition to improving engagement, comprehension, and recall, fun can also help establish a positive relationship between the librarian and the student and between the student and the concepts they’re learning. These positive relationships in turn increase the likelihood that students will continue to build on their knowledge and will return to the librarian for future needs. She notes that, furthermore, fun for the students can also be fun for the instructor, creating and communicating enthusiasm for research and information literacy. The book is practical in that it treats fun not as an intangible quality that may appear if an instructor is fortunate, but as a useful element that can be intentionally planned and built into the teaching and learning process for everyone’s benefit. Francis’ volume is a genuinely useful and accessible presentation of ideas and practical examples that makes a valuable addition to the toolkit of any librarian who regularly teaches information literacy concepts.—Amy Frazier, Middlebury College

Copyright Amy Frazier

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