All posts tagged “information literacy

photo of a red door and yellow door on a brick building
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To One-Shot or Not?

Earlier this week I had a wonderful research discussion with Nicole Pagowsky about the work we do as instruction coordinators and managers in libraries, information literacy, teaching, and feminist praxis. The next day I co-taught a workshop about teaching research as an iterative process with my lovely colleagues, Emily Deal and Carolina Hernandez. It was sparsely attended, but the English graduate students and faculty who showed up were interested and engaged. I bring up these two events because they both left me thinking about my own relationship with teaching information literacy, how it’s changed over the years, and how something I’ve been mulling over may be in direct contradiction with my own career path and experience.

I don’t like a one-shot: the drop-in visit/guest lecture from a librarian to a class where the instructor may or may not be present, the students may or may not have any context for why the librarian is there, and overall time spent together in awkwardness is anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I’ve written about one-shots tangentially in previous posts and directly talked about them at conferences. I want us, as a profession of teaching librarians, to move beyond them to a practice of information literacy education that is more equitable, sustainable, and meaningful for students. We can do so much more than just pop-in to do a session or babysit a class while an instructor is away at conference. We want to build relationships with students and talk to faculty about pedagogy and curriculum. We are capable of and deserve more.

All that said, I think back to how I learned to be a teacher, how I fostered professional relationships with faculty, how I learned about students. All of that happened in one- two- or three-shots. All of it. I designed assignments with first year seminar faculty because I taught two classes the year before that didn’t really work. I better understand students’ understanding of information sources because I saw senior thesis writers attempting to find information more commonly found in statistical reports in academic journal articles. I saw first hand how students approached searching Google vs. searching library databases. I talked to faculty about the questions students were asking in a one-shot and ended up coming back to class again and again after that.

I’ll stop there.

As librarians we don’t always have the option to teach a semester-long class, so how then, without a one- or two- or three- shot do we learn how to teach? How do we learn how to be critically reflective practitioners? How do we talk to faculty about teaching if we’ve never done it?

I ask these questions not to support one-shot teaching–I still honestly believe it is deeply problematic–but to ask, without artifice or underlying answers or passive-aggressiveness, how DO we do this?

Do we co-teach? Do we teach outside the traditional classroom? What does that look like? Do we focus intensely on one class and build expertise and relationship there?

There are no easy answers, but I want to wrestle with these questions. We can’t expect new librarians to engage deeply in conversations of pedagogy and information literacy without ever teaching, so where and how do we create space for meaningful teaching?

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Scaffolding Instruction

Hagia Sophia Scaffolding (detail) by Flickr user kutluhan celik

Photo credit: Hagia Sophia Scaffolding (detail) by Flickr user kutluhan celik

Beginning this week I’ll be teaching a variety of classes for several different departments on campus. I’m excited to get back in to the classroom and try out a few new lessons. All of the sessions cover fairly straight-forward content: EndNote 101, searching the scholarly literature, search strategies for novice researchers, and refreshers for senior students. My only lament about these classes is that there is no rhyme or reason to the structure of the skills that these students learn.

  • I’m teaching EndNote to two different required classes in the same department (one a 200 level, the other a 300 level course).
  • I’m teaching search strategies and database navigation to two different required classes in the same department (one a 200 level, the other a 400 level course).
  • I’m teaching a core course where students will learn (yup, you guessed it) search strategies and database navigation.

I have no problem teaching these topics, although I must admit I cringe when asked to do a database demo and usually try to steer the lesson towards developing research skills instead. I just fear that students are getting the same class multiple times throughout their college career, instead of building on their information literacy skill set in the same way that they progressively learn more about their major area of study through traditional coursework. Or if I’m being completely honest with myself, I don’t fear that this repetition is taking place, I know it is. I counted on it when I taught research sessions for psychology students at the University of Houston, and even built lessons around the fact that I knew at least 5 students in any given class would have already been in a class that discussed conducting a literature review using scholarly sources.

The college where I am currently employed has adopted information literacy as one of the core skills for a liberal arts education, and yet there is still not a programmatic approach to incorporating information literacy into the major areas of study.  Librarians’ involvement with classes is completely at each professor’s discretion, and the content we teach often overlaps. It’s not for lack of trying that we’re still at this one-shot stage. Our librarians are active liaisons and busy teachers, we just can’t seem to move past the supporting role into a partnership with our departmental faculty.

I suspect it may have something to do with departments often finding it difficult to map out their own curriculum requirements. No prerequisites exist where perhaps there should be some, making sequencing classes in the major difficult. I wonder if I should be taking a more pro-active approach, though. After teaching both EndNote classes I will hopefully be able to attend that department’s next meeting and talk a bit about the ways in which I might be able to strategically place library instruction throughout their major requirements.

I know I’m not alone in this dilemma and I’m curious as to how other instruction librarians have successfully moved beyond a piece-meal library instruction approach to programmatic information literacy integration.

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My Ideal Library Classroom

Last week I was struggling with the consequences of saying yes to too many instruction requests. I should have been a bit more controlling and spaced them out a bit, but I ended up agreeing to each instructor’s preferred dates and scheduling them all in the same 5 day period. Although doing so didn’t leave me with much time to work on other projects, at the end of the week I was intimately acquainted with our library instruction classroom lab.

We’re one of the lucky ones. Although not a dedicated library instruction space, we do have a lab classroom we can use for instruction.  It looks like this:

Behind this picture is a projector screen and white board wall:

What I like about our classroom lab:

  • It’s wired! The instructor computer is hooked up to a projector so that we can share our screen while teaching, and each of the students have their own computers to follow along or work on independent activities and research.
  • We have rolling chairs. It may seem silly, but having comfortable chairs for students makes a huge difference.
  • We can schedule our sessions ahead of time using a nice online reservation system.
  • It’s small. It’s a nice intimate space.
  • We have a nice large whiteboard wall perfect for brainstorming and illustrating research concepts not related to the mechanics of resource searching.

What I don’t like about our classroom:

  • It’s not a dedicated library instruction space. This classroom can also be scheduled by Writing Center faculty, and when not in use for classroom instruction it is a 24 hour open computer lab for students. The result? Empty food and beverage containers abound, furniture in disarray, and a general dirty feeling to the room in the mornings. Giving yourself 5 minutes to tidy up before a class is a must.
  • It’s the only one of its kind. This room is used for a wide range of library instruction and books up quickly! Couple that with the fact that ALL of our first year seminar classes (the heaviest library instruction customers) take place at Noon and we end up not able to accommodate all classes in this room. We do have 3 other library instruction spaces on the 3rd floor of our building. Although they all have multimedia stations and projectors for instructors, they do not contain the student computers necessary for hands on research.
  • It’s small. For a small class, it’s a great fit, but trying to include a group larger than 15-20 students is difficult.
  • The giant table in the middle. It’s too big and bulky for the space.
  • The student computers face the walls. I can only imagine that when this was done it was to make sure that the instructor could see the students’ screens during class. Or perhaps it was just the best way to fit computers in the room. Either way, it’s ineffective. Students that are going to go off task during class are going to do it whether or their professor can see their screens or not. With this set up we may be able to see the students at all times, but the students have to stop what they’re doing to pay any attention to the projection screen or the instructor.
  • The projector screen completely covers the whiteboard (or white wall in this case). As I’m showing students a database, the catalog, or other online resource, I can’t use the whiteboard wall to illustrate a search strategy, brainstorm keywords or do any other kind of scribbling because the space is almost completely covered.

As I mentioned earlier, the fact that we have a classroom space at all is a huge benefit to our instruction program, but if someone asked my to plan my ideal library classroom it would look quite different. There’s a great discussion going on at the moment through the ILI Listserv about information literacy instruction spaces. I’ve been comparing some of what I’ve seen people write about with our current library classroom and the spaces I used to teach in at the University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library to come up with my ideal library instruction scenario. We’ve been given an unlimited amount of money and space has magically been carved out in our existing building without impacting anything else. The result?

MY DREAM LIBRARY INSTRUCTION SPACE:

  • There are more than one. We have at least two library instruction classrooms. One for smaller groups (16 or fewer) and one for larger classes (30+). The smaller class would be where we would bring our first year seminar classes and small upper level courses. The larger space would accommodate bigger classes, of course. If we had to have a third it would be a research consultation room for small groups of 2-5 students to meet with a librarian. I’m thinking we could use it for SMP/Senior thesis students who share the same advisor or students working on a group research assignment
  • The classroom space is a dedicated library instruction space. No sharing. Sorry, kids.
  • There are multiple whiteboards in the classroom. This is so necessary for teaching while explaining a point in an online resource and can also be used for simple active learning exercises.
  • Computers for all! There’s an instructor station with projector hook up and each of the students have their own up to date, working computer. Since this is my dream space, the computers are all laptops, students don’t have sticky fingers and these machines don’t disappear.
  • A working printer is in the room.
  • Collaborate work space. Instead of our oak monster, I really like the look of these learning pods at Baker College of Muskegon.
  • Multiple projector screens in the room. This way all students don’t have to be facing the same direction all the time. Also, these projector screens won’t cover the whiteboards.
  • A way for students to project their own work from their computer to a screen. At UH we had classroom management software that allowed us to see what students were looking at on their computers. We didn’t use it to police students. Instead we used it (when it worked) to share a students’ screen with the class to illustrate an effective search or an important question, or to troubleshoot an issue the student was having. It was a nice way to hand over portions of the class to the students.
  • The instructor station is small or moveable. I dislike feeling chained to a big bulky podium, but I do still need to show certain resources online. A smaller, less obtrusive instructor station would be a good compromise.

I’m sure there are other features to my dream space that I’ll think to add later in the semester, but this is a good start for now. What does your ideal library instruction space look like?