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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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