Considering Universal Design

A few weeks ago, Melissa Fortson Green talked with our group about Universal Design for Library Instruction. Melissa is a librarian here at UA, and one of her fields of interest is library accessibility. I feel it is very important for new instruction librarians to consider accessibility from the very beginning, because old habits die hard, and once you develop inaccessible habits it’s harder to reverse than one might think!

Information from Melissa’s talk can be found on her blog, and I encourage you to review it, because she was very thorough.  Melissa will be returning to talk to us a second time at the end of November, this time bringing us information about accessibility and instructional technology. Meanwhile, Karlie, Alex and Louise have been working on UD active learning exercises, which we will review in our weekly meetings.

Teaching the second session

I had my first experience with teaching the second session of our library instruction classes last week. Our first sessions are mainly about how to use the library’s resources to find sources, while the second session is more about evaluating sources – how to distinguish between different types of sources, how to determine if a source is credible enough to include in a paper, etc. I taught a fifty-minute session on Monday morning and I thought it went pretty well. The students weren’t extraordinarily enthusiastic, but for a morning class they were relatively involved. I thought I knew the material well, and just having previously taught a few solo sessions helped – the only time I’ve felt that I was legitimately bad was my very first solo session.

I taught back-to-back hour and fifteen-minute sessions on Thursday, and that was a bit more difficult, just in that I had a bit of trouble expanding on the previous fifty-minute session. I finished a bit early both times, although I was able to go over the Opposing Viewpoints database at the end, which went well (those classes are working on papers using popular sources, and each student needs a source that provides a counter to their argument, and Opposing Viewpoints is a really good database for that type of thing). Having a good second session seems to depend a lot on getting the class involved, and I really struggled with that in my first session on Thursday. The second session went a lot better in that sense, and I really didn’t do anything different. I do need to improve in that regard – overall I’ve felt more and more comfortable with each session, and I think I’ve improved in a lot of ways, but I could definitely be better at encouraging student participation. I also just need to add more content for a longer session. That seems fairly obvious, but at this point I don’t have a great sense of how long a session is going to be when I’m preparing for a class. I do a class outline and try to include time limits for each section, but sometimes a certain part will go much quicker than I expected, and vice versa. I also went back and forth on what content I would include for the longer second section. I spent time working on a mind map similar to what Sara uses (I didn’t want to use her Facebook example – it works well but I just felt like I’d be mimicking exactly what she does), and also spent time working on an evaluation worksheet involving group work, but I didn’t feel great about either by Thursday morning so I ditched both. I ended up using Louise’s evaluation quiz/game and then went into the lecture/discussion, and it definitely would have been better if I had had another exercise.

Marathon Week of Instruction

The last week and half has been in many ways for me a marathon of instruction. Last week on Wednesday I had my first solo teaching experience and while it went okay, I realized that I had some kinks to work out in my approach for teaching. I had expected some issues but being nervous was not one of them. I felt that I had gotten pretty comfortable being in front of the class but as soon as they entered into the room the nerves began. I had to remind myself that this was not a class of piranhas but a class of EN 102 students. They were not going to attack me! This thought helped and I quickly tried to gather my thoughts back in order. Besides the internal nervousness, I was also dealing with another issue that I had never taken into account. For my first solo class, it took place upstairs in the testing lab and that was a whole other set of problems. All of my classes up to that point had been in the instruction room on the first floor which is an open layout. The testing lab on the second floor has partitions around each desk. This made it hard for me to see the students and vice versa. It also made it hard for the class to see the powerpoint that I had prepared. These were considerations that I did not account for in my preparation. The class overall went well however and I gained some valuable experience in the process.

This week has truly been the marthon for me! I have prepped, taught, or helped to teach three different classes this week. My first class on Monday was a Session 2 and I feel like it went really well. I had a lot of anxiety for this class and it stemmed from my first solo teaching which was also a Session 2. As I did my planning though I kept in mind the issues that I had as I created my lesson plan. The first thing that I did is I created a much more detailed lesson plan for my second solo session than the first. With the first I kept the lesson plan kind of open like I had with my Session 1 classes but I realized that while that worked for Session 1 it could be hindering for Session 2 which is much more discussion based. Having a detailed lesson plan made all the difference for me in my second solo session. I did not strictly follow my lesson plan verbatum in the class but when and if I got lost in the discussion my lession plan was there to help guide me back. Having that type of lession plan helped to put my mind at ease!

My next session was on Wednesday with Melissa and in this one I focused primarily on giving one on one help to students. I helped one student in particular to nail down an idea for her topic as well as how to find the sources she would need. The encounter lasted about 20 minutes and once she had left I realized that I had just had a full blown reference encounter which amazed me. It was one of those things that I had learned about in my reference class and conducted in bits in pieces at my jobs within the library system but this was the first time that I had had a complete reference encounter from start to finish. It was one of the most refreshing moments in my academic career and reaffirmed to me that I had chosen the right career for me.

My third session is actually today! I have just completed the first of two 20 minute web evaluation sessions for an EN 101. I have to say that this session so far has gone the best! This was me completely by myself in the classroom and it was exciting. I loved how the class responded and got into the discussion. The experience that I have gained from all my previous sessions I feel like have culminated in this one session and also reaffirmed that I do love teaching! I will report in another blog how part 2 goes! Wish me luck!!