All posts filed under “Teaching

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Tacit Knowledge and English Composition Classes

We’re in the throes of the heavy teaching period of the fall semester at my library, and based on conversations with other teaching librarians and coordinators, the same can be said just about everywhere. As soon as the breeze turns brisk we find ourselves wolfing down a granola bar/cheese stick/back of peanut m&ms in the 5 minutes we have in between classes and calling it “lunch.” (I see you teaching libs. I see you.)

It’s my first fall semester at a new school, with a new focus, and a new information literacy English composition two-shot curriculum I revised with my colleague, Emily Deal, this summer. English comp makes up the bulk of our lower-division instruction responsibilities, so we decided to try something new this year with our lesson plans. We developed a new workshop for the first course in the two course composition sequence. Typically English Comp I doesn’t have a strong research component, but students do a lot of information literacy work in the form of analyzing information sources and synthesizing ideas. In addition to a class on quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing developed by our previous instruction coordinator and teaching librarian, we developed a class on analyzing multimedia/non-written texts. Students are often asked to write an analytical essay about photographs, videos, or advertisements, and we thought this workshop could be a great way to embed information literacy beyond the typical “here’s how you find stuff” classes we normally teach for lower division courses. We absorb SO MUCH visual and video content via social media so we thought this would be a great way to help students think more critically about what they see or watch on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever social media site the olds like me don’t use)

Our first few passes at this class didn’t quite go the way I thought they would. I started off with big questions. Things like:

  • What’s the purpose of this video ad?
  • Who created it?
  • Who was it created for?
  • How did it make you feel?

Which are all well and good, but they weren’t prompting a critical analysis of the ad, which is what I was trying to accomplish. Few students seemed to see these ads–which, to be fair, were more long-form Superbowl-style attention grabbers–as meant to sell anything or prompt behavior. The feels noted were all surface level (“good. confused. happy.”), and the creator was often just the name of the product company. The questions were basic rhetorical analysis approaches applied to multimedia information sources but they fell flat. At times the students wouldn’t engage with the material or did so in a way that wasn’t as critical as we had hoped.

So, we went back to the drawing board.

I realized that a big problem with our approach to this class was that I hadn’t deconstructed the process of analysis to a manageable degree. I assumed a critical approach to these questions, but that was own bias and tacit knowledge coming in to play. I’m a librarian and have lots of practice picking things apart and critically dissecting them until there is nothing left! But students are often just beginning this practice OR using other strategies of analysis that have served them well in the past. If I wanted to teach a new method of analysis, I needed to be more explicit.

For the next version of this session, I dug a little deeper. We started by students thinking about the last video they watched on social media and why they watched it. We discussed and focused on the why as a means of realizing that sometimes our decisions to watch what’s in front of us aren’t always conscious choices, but that content creators are always thinking about viewers and impact. Next I introduced our class ad for analysis, the AirBnB #WeAccept video. I made it clear that we were going to watch it again and again and again, because that’s what we do when we deconstruct and analyze something. Before each viewing came a different prompt, with discussion in between each viewing:

  1. How does this ad make you feel? Write down 2-3 details that make you feel this way.
  2. How do you think the ad creators want you to feel? What do they want you to think? To do? Write down 2-3 details that make you think this way.
  3. For this last viewing, write down 2-3 details you haven’t already noticed/noted. Why do you think they are included in this video? How do they add to what the creators want you to think, feel, or do?

We talked. A lot.

The students noticed amazing details about the ad that completely slipped past my repeated viewings. They had time to think, process, write, and share, and their responses were detailed, critical, and interesting. Focusing on the details and allowing for multiple viewings gave us all time to dig deep into the creation of the ad.

Then, I asked students to do a little research in pairs. Each pair was asked to Google “AirBnB discrimination” and “AirBnB regulation.” Students discussed their findings, but more importantly, discussed their findings in relation to the ad we just viewed and the details they just noticed.

This whole process took the act of analysis step by step. I worried it would be a little formulaic or basic, but it actually prompted great discussion and student engagement. It made me think about my own response to activities, group work and discussion. Having parameters, details, and clear instructions is so important to me, and students need that too! The rest of the class was devoted to students going through the same analysis process in pairs with ads they were analyzing for an upcoming paper, and it was awesome to see them applying the same strategies to their own work.

If you’re interested in replicating this activity/class, I’ve shared the lesson plan, worksheets, and slides below!

Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash
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Post-Class Blues

“You don’t get a do-over,” my husband said to me, after I reenacted a particularly painful class I’d bungled my way through a few years ago.  “I might have a crappy day in my Calc III class, but then I get to come back and say, ‘that last class was rough; let’s try this again.'”

It was the perfect summary of a library one-shot. There is so much pressure on usto do well in these classes. Some of it is self-imposed, especially for those of us who skew hard in the Type A direction (I want all the “great job” stickers, thank you very much). But a big piece of our emotional turmoil around these workshops and one-shots comes is a result of the precarity of teaching opportunities in academic librarianship. Some academic librarians might work for years to be “invited” to teach a class by a faculty colleague, slowly building the case for the importance of information literacy and their own teaching ability. Others might get a teaching opportunity right away, but are keenly aware that these teaching partnerships aren’t required, and are always at the discretion of the instructor of record. A professor might one day decide they no longer need to schedule a library class, which is totally their prerogative, but it often leaves a teaching librarian wondering why.

Was that last class not helpful?
Was it that activity I tried that turned out to be a dud?
Was I not good enough?

It’s the classic teaching librarian anxiety spiral. A class might not go well, an activity or discussion might fall flat, and suddenly we find ourselves lost in the weeds of self-doubt. We worry that we embarrassed ourselves in front of a colleague and students. We think we won’t get another opportunity to try this again. We fear that one less-than-stellar class will reflect poorly on the library instruction program overall. We feel dissatisfied, maybe ashamed, and definitely down on ourselves.

Worry. Sadness. Anxiety. Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve felt this, and as I think about my colleagues in my own library and all of my teaching librarian friends elsewhere, I want to scream: Don’t be so hard on yourself! (That “yourself” includes me too). We all have bad days and classes. Sometimes the class isn’t vibing. Sometimes it’s just a crappy activity. Sometimes our teaching just isn’t the best. It happens. It happens to the professor in that class, too; we just aren’t there to see it.

How do we stop this post-class anxiety spiral?

I taught a class recently where I decided to try a new discussion activity. It tanked. It wasn’t appropriate for students’ experience and knowledge, and I didn’t do a great job facilitating. I could feel the anxiety start building in the pit of my stomach. I was afraid I’d lost them. I quickly moved on to the next section of the class, which included a group activity. During that time I took a minute or two to jot down a few notes about the failed discussion. I noted what didn’t work, how it could be modified in the future or replaced with something completely different. I was really surprised by how  much better that on-the-spot reflection helped me. I was able to quickly but effectively process my feelings, focus on the class rather than on myself, and even note possibilities for future classes. I was then able to jump back into the group activity and the rest of the class with renewed energy and excitement. I didn’t let a bad 10 minutes ruin the rest of the 70 minutes I had left with the students, and I was so thankful. The students were amazing, and the rest of the class was interesting and thoughtful thanks to their awesome engagement.

That small exercise is something I’ll definitely end up doing again, as it’s likely that I’ll have less-than-stellar moments in future classes. I want to think of other ways to stop the post-class blues and share those colleagues. What are some of the ways you deal with/process/move-on from classes that just don’t go well?

*This post brought to you by sad pugs and my Post-College Angst playlist on Spotify.

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Rambling On About Representation, Public Scholarship, Digital Pedagogy, and Self-Protection

Before I even begin I’m going to ask you to hang in there with me. I’m a ball of messy thoughts this morning made even mushier by the old school Houston weather we’ve been having these past few days (so. much. rain.). I want to draw some connections between Joyce Gabiola’s scholarship on Internalized Symbolic Annihilation (ISA), April Hathcock’s latest article on who we leave behind, and conversations that happened at Digital Pedagogy Lab this summer, all of which have been swimming around in my brain and inspiring all kinds of reflection. So I’ll start with this no-brainer:

Conversations about representation and inclusion are complicated.

At the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium, Joyce introduced and explained ISA as the means by which people from marginalized communities protect themselves, but in doing so, erase themselves from archives and public records. These individuals are less likely to contribute to oral histories or donate documents to archives, in large part because they have had a lifetime of negotiating their identity and sense of self in order to mitigate the harm that heteronormativity and white supremacy inflicts on this world. Oppression has a direct impact on preservation and the ability to preserve and share the stories of marginalized communities. But at the same time, doesn’t everyone have the right to be forgotten? Or rather, don’t people have the right to determine what they share and when/where they share it?

It’s a tough question in the face of so much scholarship that has privileged white, western, male knowledge and experience.  April asks who we leave behind in our race to make scholarship open and publicly accessible, an important question that intersects with issues of diversity and representation. I bring this up not to hold April’s article in contrast to Joyce’s work, but to highlight the different sides to the issue of representation that they are both trying to address. April encourages us to consider “Whose voices are being heard?” in scholarship and “Who is privileged with access?” The first question, is I think, where ISA comes into play. On the one hand we want to highlight voices from those on the margins, but we need to recognize that the epistemological framework of academia embraces the same oppressive forces as our society at large. This of course can trigger a self-protection response. An impulse to say this space (academia, scholarship, etc.) is not for me, or this space can actively cause me harm. (This is largely true for scholars from marginalized communities/identities,  whose experiences in public scholarship often include extreme harassment and threats.). We want to encourage diverse voices and representation of those on the margins but are our spaces safe for them/us? Have we created scholarship systems and practices that include the values of and protections for those on the margins?

This is where the conversations at Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL)come into play. There is a strong push in critical digital pedagogical circles towards students engaging in open scholarship and open learning online. It’s a way to fully embrace students’ lived experiences and show that their learning and their production of knowledge matters. But when we take into account the work of Joyce and April, this open learning is also a risky situation for students on the margins. Jade Davis’ keynote at DPL acknowledges this risk and encourages instructors to mitigate harm in their assignments and learning environments. What can learners keep for themselves? Does it all really need to be public learning to be digital or critical learning? The emphasis on public learning wants to highlight the work of the learner, but we also need to acknowledge their agency and help them create their own boundaries. It’s essential for their safety (both creative and personal), and for the development of an inclusive space where learners feel welcome.

This is where everything sort of squishes together. We want representation and inclusion in open scholarship and education, but it can’t be on the dominant group’s terms. If it is then openness just equals oppression. Nicky Andrew’s excellent work on cultural humility and Roopika Risam’s scholarship on epistemic violence both highlight epistemic models built on the knowledge practices, values, and considerations of folks on the margins. In applying this thinking and, let’s call it what it is, work, to reimagining open education and scholarship, we can reduce the need for groups to self-protect, because we have taken their safety and protection seriously. We need to create a system of learning that encourages people to set their own limits and share what they feel comfortable sharing. In doing so we will help facilitate the kind of diversity and inclusion we want to see in our classrooms and scholarship.