Favorite Moment

My favorite classroom moment came in session two. I gave out three different sources to the class, all regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. One source was scholarly, one was popular, and one was a webpage from BP itself. I also gave out a form worksheet, and this worksheet’s purpose was to get the students to figure out who wrote the article, whether or not it was scholarly or popular, and whether or not this article was reliable and relevant to the sample thesis provided at the top of the worksheet. After 5-10 minutes, we first discussed the BP official statement webpage. This is where my favorite classroom moment occurred. When I asked whether or not the students would use this source for this thesis, two students simultaneously said ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I asked these students to explain their positions. The ‘no’ student listed bias as their reason. As I was about to say maybe we would use this source to explain BP’s official position but not as a reliable source for factual information, a student who did not even have this source for the activity took the words out of my mouth.

I really appreciated this moment because I think student involvement is most important in the classroom, and I was so excited to hear these students participate the way they did.

Naturally, this was a hard moment to recreate in our meeting because the moment was all about how the students responded and what arguments they responded with. However, it was really great because I didn’t tell Brett or Kristen what to say, and they also said ‘no’ when I asked if they would use this source. I think it is important for us to remember the context in which sources are appropriate, and I feel that this activity addressed the context problem effectively on top of the sort of standard source evaluation it was geared toward.

This Week’s Reading

While I thought that “Standards for Libraries in Higher Education” was a bit of a dry read, I think it is really important that we have standards to apply to our performance. We need to be critical of ourselves, and of our performances. It is important that we uphold standards of performances; otherwise we get sloppy.

Another reason I thought this article to be important is that these sorts of standards will be applied when we (hopefully) find employment after graduation. We need to understand and be used to having these sorts of standards applied to our performance as instructors.

However, I am still wary of rigorous standards such as these. If not implemented the right way, these standards seem like they could become stifling of creativity. I would hope that a good institution would hold its staff to standards and push them to be better teachers, but still allow them the space to create and experiment within the classroom.

Reflections on Last Week

Last week I co-taught a class with Mark and solo-taught three classes. It was my second big week of teaching, and it certainly brought out all of my anxiety. It was actually kind of interesting because last Tuesday I was expecting to co-teach a class and solo-teach a class with Mark Robison, but our classes did not show up and instead another instructor showed up with a class to the same classroom without a librarian to instruct them. Mark and I waited to be sure that our class was not going to make it, and then we started teaching this class that had shown up without an instruction librarian. Our topic wasn’t exactly built for their class, but the principles were the same. It was a valuable lesson in how you sometimes have to improvise when you are an instructor.

On Thursday I solo-taught for the first time. It was an extremely stressful situation, one I was entirely unfamiliar with. It took a lot of coaching and reassuring words from Sarah Whitver and Brett Spencer to calm me down, and I then taught the class with surprising success. I thought the session went fairly well, and I was composed throughout. It helped that the teacher for this class, Erica Meyers, has a great report with her students and knows how to keep them in line.

On Friday, I experienced mixed results with the two sessions I taught. While I again felt composed in front of the classes, I also felt I needed to get through my material a little more quickly, as we only had 50 minutes to work with. Unfortunately I ended up rushing things a bit too much, leaving far too much time at the end of the classes for individual searching. This usually isn’t so bad, as I get a chance to help students one-on-one with their search processes (and I was still able to do that during these sessions). The problem was that it was Friday, so the students were naturally distracted, and they had already been assigned to find sources for their class, so some students felt they no longer needed to be there. Furthermore, their regular instructor was not there either, and they were instead brought in by a TA. These factors all led to some students feeling like it was ok for them to leave early, and being very new to instruction, I wasn’t sure what to say to these students. After all, it was my fault for finishing the instruction portion so early.

All-in-all, I am happy that last week happened and that it is over. It was a stressful time, but it also taught me a lot about myself and about instruction. Hopefully when i instruct my final two classes in April, I will feel even more comfortable in front of a classroom.

Active Learning Reading

This reading was quite interesting. It reflected on research suggesting that active learning exercises are more effective than lecture-based, demonstrative sessions. This may seem intuitive to most of us, but I feel that we often forget these facts and instead do what is familiar and safe. For many of us, that means talking about what we know. However, as this article suggests, we must give up a bit of the control we hold over the classroom to the students in order for them to grow as researchers. We must allow them to actively participate in the process; otherwise the progress we seek for those students will be stunted. While this process can be scary and unnerving (change often is), it is also beneficial, not just for the students but also for us as instructors. As I mentioned in my last post, I have been finding it difficult to shift my focus from my own performance as an instructor to the experience my students are having. Perhaps, through an enhanced focus on active learning exercises, I can better deliver a successful instruction session.

Reflective Reading

After reading this article on reflection, I started to think about my experiences in the classroom last week. Honestly, it is a little hard to think critically about my teaching methods–after all, I just (co)taught my first week of classes, and be the end I was just happy I was able to get through a class without sweating through my shirt! For the first couple of classes I was sort of focused on performing well. Looking back, I realize my best classes were those in which I was relaxed, and not concerned about delivering a great performance.

I would have to say my second class with Mark Robison and my second class with Josh Sahib were the classes I feel best about. In those classes, I was completely relaxed, delivered my material well, and I actually felt like I helped some people. I wasn’t concerned with ‘not messing up’; I was more concerned with connecting with the students and hoping they were picking up on some of what I was talking about. I believe that once my nerves were out of the way, I was able to do what I was there to do.

Teaching is really an interesting experience, when new. I was so nervous last week, and I just wanted to do well in the classroom for my own sake. But as teachers, we are really there for the students–it should be that I am nervous for their experience, not mine. So there is a very interesting intersection that happens here, an intersection where we as teachers are trying to deliver for others and for ourselves. I am not sure how to resolve this, but I think if I was more concerned with what my students were learning or not learning I would be less concerned about my own success or failure as a presenter of material.

On the whole, I am mostly pleased with how my week of teaching went. After reading this article, I realize that professors I have had that were particularly great at both lecturing and classroom interaction are those that I have been trying to emulate. Though I want to branch out and try new things, it will be hard for me because I personally do not feel passionately about games in the classroom. I personally feel that whatever I am doing in the classroom needs to be geared toward the students’ assignments, coursework or life in an academic setting. I want to make it matter for them; I want to make them understand why it is important. I am not sure if I could pull off a teaching session built around games that ‘trick’ them into learning the material. That said, I think it is very important for me to realize that I favor lecture-style settings, and I need to realize that so I will always remember to interact with my classes and not go off the deep-end of lecturing students to sleep.

Reading #3–Sara Franks Article

Sara Franks’ article on interdisciplinary study and critical thinking regarding sources of information was quite thought-provoking, given it’s focus on how to impart the latter on students during library instruction sessions. The author cites postmodern ideas, driven by Lyotard, that the grand narratives traditionally taught in academia are insufficient in representing the course of human history. I agree with this notion–think about how we think of periods of time within countries. We think of “Nazis” as every single German who lived in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. We think of North Koreans as crazy, as brainwashed sociopaths. Imagine the people of those countries, talking about Americans as a homogeneous people. My point is, we generalize to move quickly through material, but to me this seems insufficient and incorrect.

As for library instruction, I agree that we should teach students to question or sources, their motives, and their funding and organizations. We should not teach them that popular sources are all bad and academic sources are all good. Ideally, students should question all sources, should question motives, should question the process through which academic articles are produced.

The reality is, we have limited time, and too many lessons to impart. A theoretical discussion about academic sources and how many are produced through a formula and not through genius could be better suited for an advanced library instruction class, but maybe not for an introductory one. In short, these sorts of lessons are important, but I am skeptical about how well one might move through this sort of material in a short session.

Make-up Reading

This inspirational article called “The Courage to Teach” was quite moving and made me believe I might actually be able to teach. The author, I thought, was very convincing in arguing that a teacher cannot merely ‘go through the motions’–instead, a teacher must commit his or herself completely to the task, leaving them open to success or failure, acceptance or rejection, achievement or heartbreak. I myself have struggled with this dilemma. On the one hand, I want to inspire my students, to teach them useful tools that will better serve them in their academic careers. On the other, I have received the same advice from quite a few peers–‘don’t stress out so much, in the long run, they’ll never remember your class.’ This is, certainly, terrible advice. No teacher should venture into the classroom ensuring themselves that at the end of the day what they do won’t matter. It is self-defeating with the intention of being self-preserving. The sliver of truth here is that ‘it is not the end of the world if I fail.’ I cannot live and die by my sessions. I should put my best effort into them, but they should not paralyze me.

In the end, I really liked this article. Not only was it inspiring, it put me in the correct frame of mind for teaching. That is to say, I should not go into this half-hearted, acting like I don’t care, just to make sure my ego is not damaged. This is something I am really looking forward to, and so I should go into it with a committed mind.

Second Mock Session

This week we presented our mock exercises for keyword recognition in broad, narrow and related form. While I initially wanted to use Apples to Apples cards, as they are more visually inviting, I could not get a hold of the game. It is most likely just as well, as I believe it would have been difficult to find enough Apples to Apples cards that could fit together in broad, narrow and related terms. Instead I made up my own terms, and I made two groups of term cards so that I could split the Jedi counsel into two teams. These two groups consisted of two topics–Bigfoot and Lance Armstrong.

I would first like to discuss what I think went well with the game. Because the teams were forced to organize the cards on the table in order of broad to narrow, with related terms beside one another, I believe it was a visually stimulating game because you actually had to move the cards around, not just rank them on a word document. You could pick them up; you could actually see how broad terms relate to narrow terms in a real way, how related terms are defined in a real and simple way. The ‘Bigfoot’ group was by far the better of the two. The terms ‘legend,’ ‘folklore,’ ‘cryptozoology,’ ‘bigfoot,’ ‘sasquatch’ and ‘Washington State sightings’ move from broad to narrow in very defined and easily recognizable ways, and related terms are also easy to spot. This group of terms will certainly be used again.

Now, on to the negatives. I wish I had defined one term in each group–‘Lance Armstrong’ and ‘Bigfoot’–as the ‘anchor’ terms. That would have been much better. I also wish I had remembered to think like someone who is very inexperienced in keyword recognition. The reason I wish that is the ‘Lance Armstrong’ group contained a lot of terms that could easily trip you up; I myself did not organize them correctly when I was preparing for the session. ‘Sports scandals,’ ‘performance enhancing drugs’ and ‘steroids’ move from broad to narrow pretty easily, but where does ‘Lance Armstrong’ fit in? Are ‘2000 Olympic Bronze Medal’ and ‘Tour de France titles’ more broad or narrow than ‘Lance Armstrong’? These I got incorrect, so I can guarantee that freshmen students will not understand them immediately. I believe this word grouping should be scrapped.

Overall, I believe my two mock sessions went well. I learned what works and what doesn’t, and I also was surprised to find myself pretty comfortable in front of the group. While a room full of students will be much different, I felt calm and collected, and I hope that demeanor holds up under pressure.

First Week Readings

I found the reading extremely informative and encouraging. I found myself, while reading, trying to reason through practical ways to get students to change the way they think about libraries. For example, I thought about starting out with a simple question like, “why do your professors reject Wikipedia as a source for your papers?” After receiving answers, I thought perhaps I would ask, “what is a peer-reviewed journal, and why is that an acceptable source?”

While these are broad and perhaps bad questions, I felt like maybe they would be beneficial in introducing students to ‘why libraries exist’. This article also made me think critically about my 10 minute teaching session next week. I want to do my session on the boolean operators in Scout advanced searching. I want to explain what the AND and OR features do, and why they are useful. I started thinking about it in terms of a visual graph, with words leading to different databases. Perhaps this is all getting a little too MLIS, but I feel like it would help if students understood why search terms are not always successful, and how the OR function can help them turn up more relevant searches. I also found myself wondering if I could plan searches for this session. For example, I could give my students a phrase to search, say ‘capital punishment’. I could then ask them to search ‘capital punishment’ OR ‘death penalty’. Through demonstration, I could possibly help them understand why this type of search is beneficial.

First Practice Session Review

I have just finished presenting my first practice lesson to the group on Scout. Since I have never created a lesson to teach anyone anything, I spent an incredible amount of time preparing for this ten minute session. When it was all said and done, I think I spent about ten hours creating a ten minute lesson. Yeesh.

Though I probably spent way too much time creating this lesson, I am actually glad I did. I feel really good about how I whittled my lesson down to the basic elements. I feel I did a good job limiting my lesson to certain features of Scout that are easy to use and understand. My major concern going into today was that my lesson, if not carefully thought out, would quickly balloon into an aimless discussion of Scout features that are overly complicated or take too long to explain. I wanted to keep my lesson clear, concise, and simple. I did not want to fall into a stammering explanation of what a ‘boolean operator’ is (I called the boolean operator ‘AND’ a ‘function’ to avoid just that) or even how we use all three boolean operators. These discussions can become complicated really fast. I also did not want to skip any steps, as I kept reminding myself that I could not assume my audience knew anything, even something so simple as what a keyword is. In those aspects, I believe I succeeded.

Where I feel I did not succeed, and I knew this would be the case, was in visual presentation and classroom interaction. I used powerpoint because, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what else to do. My powerpoint helped me personally because when I get up in front of a group of people I quickly forget what I need to say, so it is nice to have something to reference so I do not freeze up. Obviously this is not good for my class, however, because they do not want to look at a dull, wordy powerpoint while I read it word-for-word to them.  As for classroom interaction, I suppose I did a good job of incorporating questions into my lesson. In other words, I asked a few questions that were meant to force the class through the logical process of deriving keywords from ideas and putting them into Scout in the most effective way possible. However, I was hoping to come up with some sort of game or activity that would really engage the classroom, but I was not able to develop anything concrete before our meeting.

Overall, I am very happy with the way my lesson went, given that it was my first time up there. I feel it gave me the confidence to move forward in my user instruction experience.