By Pat Wood, Interim Head Librarian of The Ohio State University at Marion regional campus library
“I did it! I’m still alive!” These are my thoughts sometimes after teaching an 8 am library instruction class to college students. Although this is one of my favorite times to teach, students don’t always arrive with the same sunny disposition as me.
When I first started doing library instruction, I fell into a false sense of security by thinking that if students were looking at me, I had captured their attention. However, I have learned that students’ faces, and body language are not a good indication of that.
Over time, after experiencing blank stares, bobbing heads, or side conversations while trying to capture students’ attention, I have tweaked my sessions using comments and suggestions from surveys that I have students do at the end of any teaching session.
Here are some things that have worked for me from a sample teaching session:
When asked to teach library instruction at 8 am with a time-frame anywhere between 60-90 minutes, I usually arrive to the class instruction session 20 minutes early to set up the room based on the instruction requests of the professor and put out any handouts. This also gives me the opportunity to greet students with a friendly smile as they arrive.
As I am introducing myself while walking around the room, I’m aware of the importance of capturing their attention so I usually add a fun fact about myself that sometimes gets a few laughs which lets me know they haven’t fallen asleep yet. Time for the ice breakers!
Some ice breakers that I have used include Kahoot, which, for those who aren’t familiar is an interactive computer game where you create questions based on a subject (library information) and students answer using an electronic device (I always have a spare or 2 just in case the room doesn’t have technology or a student doesn’t have any). This can be 2-3 questions that can be fun stuff, or information they may not know regarding the library and its services. This is usually 5-7 minutes in length.
I also have done an activity where I write one word on the board (example: baseball) and then I have students make a list of keywords that relate to it. My word selection is usually related to the discipline of the class (example: History course). This activity usually has students talking amongst themselves, which is perfect. I usually give them 3-5 minutes for this activity. We then talk about the importance of good keywords and how they play a role in creating search statements
Now that I have their attention, the real work starts. Here is where I show students how to do academic research related to their assignment. This includes websites such as Google and Research databases from the library catalog. Students get to see the differences in searching and what features each resource must assist with their selections. They also learn how to construct good search statements through trial and error.
Once finished with this task, usually 20 minutes, the students then start doing research on their chosen topic while I wander around the room to answer questions and assist with anything else they need. This type of instruction also includes handouts on the three types of sources as well as the different types of periodicals to choose from. The time frame for this part is usually 30-45 minutes. The wrap up includes a survey of two questions: what information was helpful and what information was confusing.
The above activity is one of my favorites because students learn the difference between using Google and a research database while getting a good understanding as to the benefits of each type of search. Many good talking points have come from these sessions because most students are freshmen and they really don’t know what a database is. Google has been their best friend up to this point, so learning there is something better is sometimes a shock.
Lessons learned from 8 am library instruction sessions include:
Greeting students as they come into the class works well. This seems to help with interaction during the instruction session.
Make sure that you confirm exactly what the instructor is looking for from the session. Asking them detailed questions about what they want from the library instruction session is also very helpful. I once had a professor send me their syllabus in an email that said teach from the first lesson on the syllabus. My response was “WHAT?” We then exchanged many emails to determine what was needed.
Teaching search strategies from multiple sources, and showing students how to verify scholarly information has been a huge success, because today’s assignments seem to be giving students more freedom on their source selection. From my experience on our campus, depending on the course, students’ assignments aren’t requiring a lengthy list of scholarly sources as in the past.
The bottom line is that 8 am library instruction is not the worst thing in the world. Yes, it is true that in some cases no matter how you begin the session or what you plan to teach, you will have disengaged students. The goal is to be successful, sharing great research strategies so that students can complete their class assignments to the best of their abilities.