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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.


  1. Elizabeth

    I, too, share your dilemma/frustration/head-scratchiness when it comes to curriculum mapping and info lit. After nearly two years here, I’m starting to dip my little toe in the murky water that is finding out the hows and whens of which degree plans teach information literacy and where. I’m actually meeting with a friend of mine in the education department soon to talk about how I can go about mapping out ALA’s IL Objectives within our existing degree plans to see where the holes are. As we speak, however, I’m off to teach a Chemical Lit class (seniors) how to use Academic Search Complete… seriously. Last week I taught them about Boolean Operators and you would have thought I was given them the secret map to the next National Treasure movie. The professor that teaches the course has been proactive about having them come to me early in this course, but I think the fact that they don’t know about phrase searching as seniors is a big red flag to say that perhaps that degree plan has some MAJOR holes in their IL instruction.

    I said all of this to say that at the moment, I have no solution to your problem, but I’m working on it and you are not alone in your pursuit of logical IL instruction design!

  2. Elizabeth, thanks for sharing. It’s always nice to know I’m not alone!

    I think that you bring up a really good point: In addition to overlap in IL instruction through out a degree plan there are also big misses and holes. Yesterday evening on the reference desk I assisted a senior seminar student in finding a book on the shelf. This student freely admitted to not knowing how to find it, which makes me think that this student missed out on basic library/research 101 during her college career.

    We have required first-year seminars that may or may not include IL instruction (it’s up to the discretion of the professor) so some students are getting the basics, and some just aren’t.

    It is a challenge, isn’t it?

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