Session 2 Experiences and Reading

This week I taught my back-to-back session 2’s. I was able to control my nerves and deliver my content. During my active learning activity involving evaluating sources, I was fortunate enough to learn from my students! I chose an academic journal article that was related to my topic but not exactly relevant, and a student pointed this out. I had students that accurately described how they would use these sources for their papers–to describe a company’s official position and to source first-hand accounts, for example. I thought this was really encouraging. 

The reading on podcast efficacy as used in a flipped classroom setting was very interesting. I think the authors are right in that podcasts have a lot of potential and free up instructors to engage in active learning exercises and discussion with their students. However, in my experience the podcasts need to be pushed by the class professors in order to be effective. It seemed that only the most studious of the class completed the podcast assignments, while others ignored the assignment. 

Standards and Proficiencies Reading

Reading the Standards and Proficiencies reading for tomorrow, I was struck by the standardized ‘Principles and Performance Indicators’. These indicators, particularly the ‘Institutional Effectiveness’ indicators, strike me as vaguely similar to the sort of outcomes I might present to a class before we begin our session. They are goals which we ideally are striving to meet. Such goals or objectives are important. They keep us on task and pointed in the proper direction. They guide us. 

At an institutional level,  Standards and Proficiencies are also durable. Employees may come and go, but standards last and help keep organizations consistent. As an information services department, it is also important to show department progress and effectiveness. One important way to do that is by having defined Standards and Proficiencies to measure your department against. Are we achieving these standards? What areas do we need to improve upon? 

In a classroom, creating objectives that reflect your broader standards and proficiencies supports your departmental and institutional objectives. They also help you measure your success as an instructor. Using assessment tools, we can measure our success in implementing class objectives. 


Reflections on Teaching

Teaching two classes back-to-back two weeks ago was an experience I won’t soon forget. Before my first class, a level of panic set in that I had never experienced before. I couldn’t believe it–I have taught over a dozen sessions and still I get so nervous! Before my first class, I was looking for a way out. I can’t do this, I thought, they’ll hate me, they’ll rebel, my head will end up on a stick outside Gorgas as a warning to other librarians–“bore us and you will pay!”

I found Brett Spencer and, sweating, I confided my nervousness to him. I told him “I don’t know what I will do!” and mopped my brow for the 10th time. Brett promised to stay and watch my session for moral support, and I was grateful. As soon as I started talking, though, I calmed down and stopped sweating. I went on with the session, implementing my ‘active learning’ lesson plan. I designed two active learning activities for the students to complete, thinking that lecturing less and putting the learning into the hands of the students would lead to more engaging sessions. I was half-right: the session went better this way, but I forgot to ask the students to pair up and talk about what they thought. I wish I had done this, because I believe that when students get to speak with one another, they become even more engaged. 

Overall, I am proud that I overcame my nerves and delivered instructional sessions with clear goals and multiple active learning exercises. While working individually with the students, I noticed they were implementing what I had taught them, which was satisfying to see. I still would like to get over my nerves so I can focus exclusively on teaching during the sessions. I may never get completely there, but I am working on it. 

Becoming Critically Reflective

“Becoming Critically Reflective: A Process of Learning and Change” is also a great re-read. Teaching sometimes forces us along a linear path–tomorrow there are more classes to be taught, more lesson plans to be made, and who has time to reflect? We must make the time to reflect. We need to find some way to re-evaluate ourselves. What are we doing right? More importantly, what are we doing wrong? 

These questions make me grateful that librarian Josh Sahib taught us how to upload materials and quizzes into UA Blackboard Learn course shells. Using this method, we can assess what level of information literacy students bring into their first library session as well as what level of information literacy they leave the session with. Assessment can force us to be reflective–it’s hard to ignore hard data. 

Larry Sheret and John Steele in their 2013 article, “Information Literacy Assessment,” confirm that it is most advantageous to conduct information literacy assessment as part of the students’ normal class activities. Using UA Blackboard Learn supports this idea–the materials and quizzes are located in their normal Blackboard course shells. Really anything we can do to take the burden off of the professor and make their library visits as seamless as possible is a great benefit, which is what this method of assessment does. I’m excited to see how it will work out.

*This post was mis-published on 9/12 into another blog and found 10/3.

Challenging Grand Narratives

I’m certainly glad to have re-read “Grand Narratives and the Information Cycle in the Library Instruction Classroom,” by Sara Franks. Challenging grand narratives is something we must do to try to pull ourselves out of the traditional thought pattern that history is one massive, linear process. We should remember to tell our students to challenge traditional lines of thought. What did the author have to gain by publishing that academic article, for example? Perhaps he or she was truly passionate, but maybe they were coming up for tenure and needed to bolster their cv. We need to remind our students that their are alternative voices, alternative ways at looking at their problem or thesis than just the mainstream thought.

To supplement this reading I chose “If the NSA trusted Snowden, why should we trust the NSA?,” by Farhad Manjoo from Slate Magazine. This article, though hardly mainstream, raises important questions about Edward Snowden that many major news organizations failed to investigate, such as, why was Edward Snowden, a programmer seemingly less accomplished than your average community college grad, given the keys to the proverbial NSA safe? Without disappearing down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole, this article is one example of how difficult it is to challenge mainstream thought and then also penetrate the mainstream publishing avenues; indeed, it is almost impossible.

To bring this all back to information literacy somehow, it is very hard to challenge mainstream publications in a user instruction course. We want students to question their materials, but how are we supposed to tell them both to use our resources yet also not implicitly trust them? It sounds perfectly logical to us, but to a freshmen college student it must sound incredibly hypocritical. Furthermore, how far can we push the ‘don’t implicitly trust the mainstream’ without rubbing the class’ professor the wrong way? Many professors of freshmen English courses aren’t interested in rocking the boat too much, and don’t want students to become overly confused. We must find a way to push the envelope without alienating the professor. We must also find a way to teach students to not implicitly trust their resources, to question them, yet still use the library. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure.

The Courage to Teach

Rereading “The Courage to Teach” was really helpful. It is always helpful to remember that there are others, even well-established and experienced professionals, who struggle with the insecurities that arise during teaching. The fear that arises during teaching seems insurmountable–what if the students openly rebelled, and left all at once? What if they don’t even respond when you ask them a simple question? These sorts of fears lead teachers to lecture, to avoid those risky moments. They certainly lead me to avoid taking chances in the classroom. 

To supplement this reading I chose an article entitled “Good Teaching” by Parker Palmer. Though published in 1990, the themes in this article are still pertinent. In fact, the last section of the article is titled “The Courage to Teach,” and includes this incredibly insightful passage: “Fear is a driving force behind objectivism, that mode of knowing that tries to distance us from life’s awesome energies and put us in control. Fear is a driving force behind the kind of teaching that makes students into spectators, that pedagogy that tries to protect both teacher and subject from the give-and-take of community, from its rough-and-tumble. When our fears as teachers mingle and multiply with the fears inside our students, teaching and learning become mechanical, manipulative, lifeless. Fear, not ignorance, is the great enemy of education.”

I must try to acknowledge and then conquer this fear. I have to find a way to put myself out there. Otherwise, my sessions will be boring and un-engaging. 

Re-thinking Instruction

Today I re-read our first article, “How Do They Conduct Class?” I was struck by this article even more than last semester, and spent a long time considering its implications. I was struck by how daring and innovative the professors in the article appear to be. They risk total silence, student abandonment and confusion, and more. They risk all this because they are not overly concerned with their “performance,” though they do give consideration to how they behave in front of a class. They risk all this because they are student-focused. What will engage the students? What creates curiosity or even basic attentiveness?

What I found, when re-reading this article, is that I am very attached to playing it safe. I explain the topics to my own satisfaction, rarely considering whether the student is interested in what I have to say. This semester, I want to make my students critically think about research. What makes searching the online catalog so difficult? I would like to explain this is terms of everyday activities to the students. I want to explain the concepts we are teaching in terms the students can understand, then build on that simple knowledge base to construct something more complex. I want to create a narrative that is engaging. These are tall tasks, but I feel it is time to risk more in the classroom.

Finishing Instruction, Moving on to Collection Development

In the past week, I have finished teaching all of my sessions and have begun to focus exclusively on collection development for the history department with Brett Spencer. Finishing classes was a great relief, to be honest. I am getting really busy with schoolwork, and the anxiety I feel when I teach only adds to that stress. Teaching, for me, was a really valuable experience, and I learned a lot about myself. I am so grateful that I was given this opportunity, and I know how valuable it will be for me in the future.

I also learned through this process that I really enjoy collection development. Analyzing the history department, creating a conspectus and buying books has been really rewarding and fun. Brett is an excellent teacher, and I have been learning so much about which presses are more reputable than others, how to make sure I don’t buy items we already have in the library, and how to make judgment calls about books in general. In performing collection development duties, I have actually learned that my duties as an assistant to a private library creator were actually very similar to collection development, and so I found that I already had learned some of the skills required of a collection development position. This revelation should seem intuitive–after all, we were building collections–but sometimes it is hard to notice these connections or applications. After all, we were just buying books online and putting together collections for clients at Kinsey Marable & Co. How could that ever translate to buying books online and putting together collections in an academic library?

After Instruction

Yesterday I finished my final teaching session of the semester. True to form, I was teaching the database Opposing Viewpoints in Context and the database would not function. I tried and tried and tried, but apparently the Alabama Virtual Library, the carrier of OVIC, was experiencing technical difficulties. So, my entire lesson was useless and I had to improvise a lesson on the fly. Luckily I had planned to talk briefly about Academic Search Premier and my class was only eight students, so it wasn’t a huge deal and I think the students still benefited from the lesson. The class was comprised of three male freshmen students and five female freshmen students. The women in the classroom were very attentive and tried hard to implement my lessons in their searches. The men very stereotypically looked for the lowest prices on GNC protein powder. What was encouraging, though, was that by the end of the lesson everyone, including the men, were looking for sources for their topics. I was able to individually help everyone search, and in fact one of the protein powder guys had a very smart and fresh take on subject headings, keywords and searching in general. While I was explaining the process to him, he said, “oh, like tags.” What he meant was, keywords and subject headings are like tagging photos on facebook. I found that really encouraging because I think its a great metaphor. I never thought that this student who at the start of class couldn’t pay attention would actually teach me something by the end. This is one of the great aspects of instruction, and it is moments like these that keep instructors coming back to the classroom.

3.20.2013 Reading

This week I read “Standards and Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators: A Practical Guide.” What struck me about this reading was the common themes that keep popping up in this reading: “collaborating,” “mentoring,” “improving,” “sharing,” and so forth. These standards clearly emphasize instruction librarians’ roles as supporters of one another. These standards emphasize instruction coordinators’ roles as mentors, as supporters of those librarians below them. These standards are really encouraging, and it’s really great to see how they are put into place in our environment. As members of the Jedi Council, we are there each week to discuss our struggles, our successes, and how we might improve upon our teaching. Brett and Sarah both do a wonderful job of motivating and encouraging us, and we, as interns and assistants, have the benefit of seeing how good instruction coordinators and librarians function.