Recreate your favorite class moment

Next week, we are going to do a different kind of activity. Since our instruction is winding down and spring break is approaching, I want you to try to recreate your favorite moment of the semester to share with us as a group. Sharing your experiences with your colleagues is an important element of reflection, and it learning what worked in your classroom helps to inspire and motivate your colleagues!


Here are your instructions:

  1. Choose a moment during the semester when you feel things worked really well.
  2. Write a short description of why you feel that was a successful teaching moment. Include how you prepped for this moment, and what your thought process was– did you attempt to use a specific pedagogy or teaching method?
  3. Try to recreate the teaching moment for us during our 3/21 meeting. Pay attention to the details, and verbally annotate each step for us as you guide us through the process.
  4. Directly after our meeting, post your information here on the blog, complete with the reactions that you received in our meeting.

Have fun!

Practice, Guidence, Modeling and Encouragement

We have a new set of interns and GTAs this semester. Louise, Alex and Karlie finished their sojourn with us in December, and we have sent them out to rock the world of instruction! This semester, we welcome Steve, Kristen, and Robert to the group, and Brett and I look forward to watching them learn! I know at the beginning of the semester, our group experiences much trepidation- what can be more scary than the thought that in the span of a month, you are going to be expected to stand in front of 25 freshmen and teach them something! As we begin the semester, I’d like to share a post that came across Inside Higher Ed that I think really expresses something lovely. The post is about developing an ethical culture (a further explanation of the resolution stating “We will stop making Faustian bargains in the search for truth, and create a lived and shared culture of ethical conduct and transparency” ) it speaks to what we are striving for each semester in our group.

The thing that I love about this post and it’s analogy to ballet is the environment which the author is describing. A culture of “guidance, modeling, and encouragement toward the ideal.” This is the very culture that we strive for in our instruction internship program- our intention is to invite our interns to join a learning environment where they are going to make mistakes and be nervous, but where they will be encouraged to grow and find their voice. To give them experience in teaching with a safety net, so that when they enter the job market they will both know what to expect and have something to offer their future employer. To guide new instruction librarians in the practice of reflection and intentionality. And to give them a period of time to learn to self-evaluate and assess their performance, and practice without the pressure of impressing anyone. And I hope that with this experience, their future participation in instructional activities will be more fruitful and less cause for anxiety.

So, welcome to a new semester! I look forward to all of the great work that we’re going to do!

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.

Creating a Departmental Instruction Activity Repository

Over the course of this semester, Brett and I have been challenging our instruction students to create and refine active learning exercise that they can use in class as part of their instruction training. The University of Alabama highly values active learning, and without it students tend to get lost in the new environment (the library’s instruction lab) with a new face (the instruction librarian). Our design goals for active learning exercises have been to provide students with the opportunity to engage with the content using their critical thinking skills.

Because we’ve asked them to design new exercises every week, and the three of them have amassed quite a library of activities. Over the past two weeks, they have had the opportunity to try their exercises out in the classroom to see what works and what doesn’t and have had the opportunity to refine their exercises accordingly.

I wanted to share a few examples of the activities that have been produced this semester. They are simple, and something that I like about both of them is that they ask students to take responsibility for their own learning.

The first is a Web Evaluation exercise that Karlie has created:

This exercise was created for use in an EN101 class. UA’s EN101 doesn’t have a large outside sources requirement, and for the one paper they do use outside sources for they usually let students use websites. The point of the paper is to teach students to synthesis information. Karlie’s exercise gives students clear guidelines for judging a website for authority and intent, which is the critical thinking component of the exercise, rather than giving them a set of rules based on domain. The exercise is completed in conjunction with a short (15 minute) class discussion about domain, authorship, intent and publication process.

The second exercise I’d like to share with you is Louise’s Source Evaluation game (you will have to follow the link to see the full game).

This game has been a great tool to engage students in a meta-cognitive practice before talking to them about source evaluation during session 2 for EN102 classes. She allows students to play the game as their first activity in class, and then engages them in a 15 minute theoretical talk about scholarly and popular sources. Because they have measured their incoming knowledge, students are aware of what they know and what they need to know before any discussion begins.

The exercises that Karlie, Louise and Alex have designed are being used very successfully in the classroom. When we asked them to begin designing them, it was my intention that we create a pool of activities that can be used by anyone in our department (there are 9 instruction librarians currently in our department). We will maintain this pool and continue to add next semester with our new interns and GTAs. I think it will be great for them, during their job searches, to be able to say that they contributed to a departmental instructional activity repository, and it is going to be quite useful for our department as well, as we seek to serve our 6400 new freshmen by providing them interesting and informative experiences at the library!

Looking to Session 2

This week’s challenge is to create active learning activities to use in Session 2.

Here at The University of Alabama, our instructional program for First Year Writing Students is separated into two sessions. The first is Finding and Using Search Terms and the second is Evaluating Sources. Louise, Alex and Karlie have been challenged each week to design activities to use in the sessions, with a narrow focus on one aspect of these topics.

Our sessions focus on narrow learning outcomes. We try to limit the learning outcomes to 3 for each session. Our departmental outcomes for session 2 are:

  • Distinguish difference types of resources in order to select relevant and reliable sources
  • Locate articles and books in print and electronic format in order to retrieve diverse types of sources.

When we talk to students about evaluating sources, there are two conversations that we have with them.

We talk about setting standards- what are the standards that a source has to meet in order to be included in your body of research? What caliber source do you need in order to support your argument? Will you need to use scholarly articles? Primary sources? Or are popular sources good enough?

The other conversation is about a source itself- how do you critique or measure the value of a source? How do you review your source? Who is the author? Do you need to do some background research on them to make sure they know what they’re talking about? What gives them ground to talk about this topic? And what is the source origin? Is it peer reviewed? Did it have publication and editorial standards? What kind of reputation does it have?

So far, we’ve been seeing a lot of creative activities. Anything from small group work to game show style games. I am looking forward to seeing what comes out of this challenge, and I hope the activities will be blogged about afterwards!

Full Swing

Library Instruction season is in full swing at The University of Alabama! All of us are scurrying around, meeting with class instructors, planning lessons, and meeting with students in classrooms and one on one. There is a lot of energy in the air! Karlie, Louise and Alex presented some very narrowly focused and informative searching modules this morning, and without any prior discussion, each of them highlighted a different aspect of the searching process. Karlie has had her first co-teaching experience as of yesterday, and the other two will begin next week. I think they’re ready. They’re doing so well.

This afternoon, I’ve been prepping something a little different from our normal EN102 classes. I am going to a EN101 class to talk to them about their Informative Synthesis paper, which will be on film reviews of The Avengers, Bridesmaids, The Hunger Games, or A Separation. The movies are pre-selected, and the students will actually be finding 4 reviews of one movie, and synthesizing those reviews for their paper. It’s a really fun assignment. But the question becomes how to teach them to find the specific sources that they need? They don’t need to learn how to do general searches, and I only have 20 minutes to present to them.

This is what I’ve decided to do. I have outlined a search formula for them to follow, and in my LibGuide I’ve linked to several databases that they can use this formula in to find the reviews that they need. I think this will give them a fail-safe way to search for the specific information that they need without steering them towards any of the greater conceptual issues that we will be addressing with them in the future. This assignment’s important objective is for students to learn to synthesis multiple sources, and this activity will facilitate that objetive nicely!

Dry Runs

Today, Louise, Alex and Karlie were able to do their first dry run of an instruction session during our training meeting. Brett and I asked them to conduct a 10 minute module, teaching some small aspect of Scout (The University of Alabama’s EDS). The purpose of this exercise was to discover things about themselves when they try to explain something to an audience. Each did a fantastic job.

I have issued a challenge to them to do some search analysis using Scout, so that they have a better practical understanding of how it works, and cautioned them about drawing focus during their sessions from their key points by trying to explain jargon and technicalities in too much detail. And we all have to continue to find a balance between being a fallible human who makes mistakes and drawing too much critical attention to one’s self at the cost of distracting from our message.

Time is something that I have been struggling with in the past week or so. I never have enough time to cover everything I plan. This semester, I have been focusing on reducing the quantity of my session content in order to more deeply address the strategy of choosing search terms and developing search strings, and I find that the deeper I go, the less time I have. Twice so far this semester, I have not left enough time to complete the exercise that I planned to do with my students. For my sessions next week, it’s my goal to pace myself better, and to recognize if I am spending too much time on one thing. If I feel I am spending the correct amount of time on each component during my sessions, perhaps I am still trying to accomplish too much and I need to cut something out! In this process I find both frustration and motivation. I want my freshmen to be equipped with adequate skills for finding the best sources for their research when they leave my classroom, but if I try to teach them too much I risk over-saturation.

Next week we are going to repeat our dry runs, and I think we will perhaps implement some peer review into it. The following week, we are going to develop active learning components for our classes. I look forward to seeing these three budding instructors grow more confident and find their voice through these exercises. Great job, everyone!

Welcome to a New Semester!

I think we’ve gotten off to a great start. Our Interns Louise and Alex, and our GTA Karlie are all settling into their new schedules, and are beginning their special projects. We are having some great conversations in our training sessions.

This week, Brett and I both shared examples of times when we failed pedagogically. Reflecting and sharing those experiences is what allows us to grow as teachers. Everyone read an article called “How Do They Conduct Class,” and we talked about finding our teaching style and allowing ourselves to experiment. We also talked about not being hard on ourselves if something doesn’t work out the way we hoped. We can only improve if we are willing to try new things, and sometimes new things don’t work, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth trying! We learn something new through the experience of trying, and that new knowledge is ours regardless of the success of our experiment!

Welcome, Alex, Louise and Karlie! Let’s have a great semester!