Living in Liminality

Written by Craig Gibson, Professor & Professional Development Coordinator and Drake Institute Faculty Fellow for Mentoring

 

During this pandemic-inflicted year (or more), all of us have experienced a range of experiences, emotions, interactions, hopes, and fears as we’ve thought about our work—our practice as professionals and as members of the university community. Time itself has become an uncertain and radically more subjective space, with the markers of days and weeks and signposts of events blurring, with some recognizable features but with more uncertainty and searching for stable milestones in our work and in our personal lives. Commentary on this uncertainty appears often in major media outlets, in blog posts, and in articles and books. We are living in an unmoored space, seeing each other across virtual meetings in Zoom rectangles, through phone calls, in emails, and occasionally in person, but the reality of teleworking for many of us has lessened connection and also presented opportunities for reflection on the uncertainties enveloping us.   We are living, in effect, in a “liminal space.”

I am pointing to the idea of “liminality” here to raise some important issues about our work with our students and faculty. I first learned about this notion of “liminality” while co-chairing an ACRL Task Force, the one that created the Framework for Information Literacy, the generative and often controversial document that continues to cause interest, some disagreement, and productive discussions among teaching librarians. The theory behind the Framework, Threshold Concepts theory, posits that students or novices must learn the foundational and often counterintuitive ideas in any discipline by traversing a “liminal” space with uncertain markers and guideposts, with many questions, with unsettling ideas, that may upend students’ comfortable, unquestioned, and previously naïve conceptions about the discipline. The student must live with uncertainty for an extended period, the theory goes, in order to emerge with greater understanding of that field, its ways of thinking, the way its scholars and experts talk and write, their habits and signaling and the accepted norms of professional communication within the field. Only in moving through that emotionally challenging and difficult space of liminality can the student emerge as an expert, or at least more expert-like in habits of mind, and in understanding the big ideas of the discipline that organize the mental universe of the field. The student may oscillate between more expert-like thinking and revert to earlier naïve notions while in the liminal space, and that traversing through the fog of uncertainty is necessary for the pain of learning to occur.

I well recall, during one of the rich conversations in our ACRL Task Force, that one of the early adopters of Threshold Concepts theory in our profession observed that “threshold concepts themselves are a threshold concept for our profession.” She remarked on the collective “liminal space” that teaching librarians were living through in even considering this theory and adapting it to their teaching practices. Questions abounded during those years during virtual open hearings and at ALA conferences, and at other events, about our teaching role: how can these very complex ideas possibly be taught in our one-shot instruction sessions, which are our bread-and-butter approach to instruction?  How can we possibly assess learning outcomes for these messy, complicated ideas?  Shouldn’t we be focusing on the specifics of teaching databases and style guides and the immediately useful information students need for assignments given by faculty? How can our limited opportunities for teaching possibly reach for programmatic development if we tie ourselves to a theory developed outside the library profession, that many faculty hadn’t even heard of? These questions, among many others, challenged me and others, but we grappled with them, and understood that we were in our own liminal space in effecting change at scale across the profession. We made changes in multiple versions of the Framework through listening, responding, respecting a wide range of perspective offered by colleagues, while keeping our core principles about the emerging Framework before us. It was, as we often say, a learning experience.

I reflect now on the liminal space we’ve been traveling as a profession since the idea for the Framework first emerged from our Task Force’s discussion eight years ago, and see greater understanding of shifts in our teaching role because the Framework has provoked so much discussion, debate, and reflection. Some institutions have adopted it readily and have created structured curricula, partnering with Writing Programs, based on its elements of threshold concepts, knowledge practices, and dispositions. Others have taken parts of the Framework and created assignments or specific courses based on its elements. Some have adhered to an older—and in my view, outdated– set of Information Literacy Standards created over twenty years ago, which do not address the information challenges of this time. Among these are the authority/expertise problem, the reproducibility and data fraud problem in many science and social science fields, the misinformation/trust problem in media environments, the ideology/truth claim problem occasioned by Critical Theory in some humanities, the algorithmic mysteries of search engines and social media, and a general attention problem because of the bursts of information coming at us in our professional and personal lives. Sense-making as professionals about our teaching role as librarians is more challenging than ever in these times.

However, the liminal space we continue to traverse together offers opportunities for learning together. I have learned, through conversations and discussions with colleagues here and elsewhere, that our teaching role, whether based on the Framework or not, needs to be reimagined. We will need to navigate a difficult space of teaching in more traditional ways, face-to-face, in single instruction sessions, while planning for, and reaching toward, larger and deeper partnerships that build larger communities of practice for pedagogical innovation. We need architectures for deeper learning, multiple pathways that produce integrative learning, across longer trajectories of learning, in order to effect deeper educational change. The lesson from liminality here, for our profession, is that the uncertainty created by myriad disconnected one-shot sessions that don’t build toward something larger, leaves us in instructional limbo, in a service provider role, that of the occasional lecturer or guest presenter. Such a role matters, but what can be imagined based on it matters more: that of educational partner—in designing assignments and curricula, in joining communities of practice related to teaching development such as those sponsored by the Drake Institute at Ohio State, or in joining groups sponsored by academic departments reorganizing General Education courses, or in creating new ones founded on partnerships. The educational partnership role is vital for our continued success.

Another lesson learned from the liminal space opened up by the Framework is that the technocratic perfectionism of lesson plans and learning outcomes clearly specified, based on the previous Information Literacy Standards (or any other set of Standards), do not achieve the deepest learning possible, and don’t support the wide variability among students. We have learned much about assessment in our profession in the past decade, with proliferating presentations and articles about it, but learning outcomes that eliminate the spontaneous, the charged luminous moment in the classroom, the too-carefully managed activity, often remove the possibility for learning. Our students need to learn the vagaries and uncertainties of the research process, and too often our presentations and lessons are too “packaged” to give them that reality—the challenges of living with liminality themselves in working with disciplinary ideas in concert with information literacy concepts. A good example is teaching how to formulate a research question that is “researchable”: this is the reality that scholars and researchers grapple with all the time, but their expertise allows them to move quickly to another line of investigation, a reframed question, a new population, another perspective.   Students need to be taught in depth that “Research is Inquiry” (one of the Framework’s big ideas), and to modify questions and develop better ones as they work through dead ends and uncertain lines of investigation. Only the extended experience of liminality disciplines their minds and their habits to develop better questions worthy of inquiry. That extended experience of productive liminality can only be provided by thematic connections provided by the Framework, or other uber-concepts, across time, as students grapple with those ideas together and with faculty working with them—not necessarily always as unquestioned experts, but as co-learners.

Another lesson from liminality in working on the Framework, and in reconsidering our teaching role in working with disciplinary faculty, is that faculty themselves are often the most neglected learners on campus (Rossing and Lavitt). Surely this is a counterintuitive “threshold concept” in itself! After all, faculty are highly educated, are experts in their field, have published extensively, conducted multi-year scholarly projects, have presented at conferences, and have sustained professional conversations with colleagues worldwide about the leading-edge questions in their fields. However, most faculty learn about teaching, if at all, episodically, and they are neglected learners in the sense that they often teach in solitude and may lack the time and commitment to make their expertise and knowledge more accessible to students and to a wider public.    Professional learning programs offered through Centers for Teaching and Learning on many campuses, and through the Drake Institute at Ohio State, provide opportunities and venues to create community and collective learning to make that knowledge come alive for more students, with more diverse students, and to a wider community, and enliven interdisciplinary conversations that create a more vibrant intellectual climate. How can librarians become part of those interdisciplinary conversations? We need to learn, more deeply than before, how scholarly conversations and influence work, how faculty are incentivized, and learn the language of complexity within disciplines, but also across them. Our teaching role in communities of practice, in research partnerships such as those offered by the Office of Research at Ohio State, and in many “small significant conversations” on campus (Roxa and Martensson), can coalesce to help us, with our partners, move through our collective liminal space toward a reinvigorated community—beyond this pandemic time, but more importantly, toward a revitalized time of real community where all contribute and make learning more sustained and vibrant for all who teach and learn together.

Sources for further reading

Rossing, Jonathan P., and Melissa A. Lavitt. “The Neglected Learner: A Call to Support Integrative Learning for Faculty.” Liberal Education 102, no. 2 (Spring 2016): 1–10.

Roxå, Torgny, and Katarina Mårtensson. “Significant Conversations and Significant Networks—Exploring the Backstage of the Teaching Arena.” Studies in Higher Education 34, no. 5 (2009): 547–59. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070802597200

Setting Teaching Goals for 2021

Written by Abigail Morgan, Social Sciences Librarian at Miami University

 

January is traditionally a time to pause, reflect, and set intentions for the next year. While 2020 and the early days of 2021 have taught me that our world can be upended in an instant and flexibility and openness to change is more important than ever, I still believe that goal-setting is an important practice. I also find that it helps bring stability and routine, even when working in less than ideal circumstances. Setting goals for learning is an inherent part of the instruction process, so it seems natural that now is the time to think about what I want to achieve in my teaching practice in the next calendar year. Here are the goals I’m setting:

Goal 1: Redesign lessons to incorporate critical pedagogy from the ground up

While I have been an enthusiastic proponent of critical pedagogy methods for several years, I have only been able to make small changes into my class sessions – such as using more diverse examples. In 2021, I’d like to move from proponent to active practitioner. This will entail overhauling several lessons I have taught many times in the past. My first priority is redesigning our mandatory first-year business student information literacy module to add more activities about authority and inclusion into the coursework, as well as more opportunities for discussion. I hope this will have a high impact since it reaches over 1,000 students. For the one-shot sessions I usually teach, I also plan on using less time in class on lecture, demonstrations, and individual activity and more time on group work and discussion. These practices will give students more voice and help them actively engage with the material.

Goal 2: Add more assessment from students

I confess I’m not the best at allotting time for student assessment of my teaching. That’s not because I think my teaching is perfect – in fact I suspect I’m my own worst critic. While I always include some sort of meaningful activity for students so they can demonstrate their learning, this is not the same as getting direct feedback. Incorporating more regular assessment of my instruction will make me see my teaching more clearly. One advantage of remote instruction is that it is easier to make assessment flow naturally into the pace of the lesson. I plan to make the most of remote instruction this spring to get more in the habit of assessing my sessions so by fall it will be easier to include in all instructional situations, online, hybrid, or face to face.

Goal 3: Preparing for in-person instruction in Fall 2021

I have been lucky enough to be able to work and teach from home throughout the pandemic.  When we resume classes for fall semester 2021, I will have been out of practice teaching in front of a class for over a year. Of course, conducting instruction via Zoom or Canvas modules is real teaching, but it requires a different approach than in-person instruction. Just as it took time to get used to the feeling of teaching through the barrier of technology, I think it will take another adjustment to adapt back into teaching face to face. My skills are rusty: my ‘teacher voice’ is unexercised and my ability to stand comfortably for 50 minutes in work appropriate shoes is non-existent! At the same time, I’m eager to teach in person again and I believe that students and faculty will share the same sense of delight returning to the classroom.

I’d love to hear from others about what they are planning to work on in 2021. What are your 2021 goals for teaching and learning?

 

 

Being Flexible in a Pandemic: Learning to Edit On-the-Fly

Written by Kay Clopton, the Mary P. Key Resident of Cultural Diversity for the University Libraries.

I work for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and I was supposed to give a tour to a Comparative Studies class this Spring. Those plans were thwarted by the current pandemic, but I offered to create a video for the class so that they could get a virtual tour. What I did not anticipate was having to film the tour in a hurry because of the notification that people were being told to leave campus immediately, so I ran up to our galleries, filmed at least six versions of an impromptu introduction, and toured our galleries while describing the materials as if I were giving the tour. Having filmed this on my phone gave me the ability to use the cloud storage to later access the raw data.

However, there was one other issue: I wasn’t exactly trained on editing video outside of trimming videos I would film for church. So I also had to learn how to become an editor and find software that would allow me to take all of the raw data and turn it into something watchable. I researched and found a free editing program, OpenShot Video Editor, that allowed me to learn as I went while putting the video together, and I also found some free music to add to the video to keep it from being just me and my footfalls in the galleries. The video was sent to the instructor for the class and turned out to be very useful and well received (I also passed the video along to my colleagues at the Billy Ireland who also thought it was pretty good). Ultimately, it was an interesting experience where I learned more about my capabilities as an instructor by adapting a tour to a virtual experience. I was able to give the students an experience of visiting the gallery and giving information as if they were there, and by being available afterwards for questions via email, I feel the students were given the best experience possible under the circumstances.

How to Keep One-Shots Fresh

By Janell Verdream, Instruction Librarian at Ohio State Newark and Central Ohio Technical College

 

At the Newark campus, we’ve become familiar with a number of classes that we visit regularly: mainly introductory English, History, and Biology courses. We’ve answered countless questions about the same research projects assigned in these classes semester after semester. Essentially, we could probably teach these one-shots in our sleep, but how can we keep these sessions fresh and engaging so as to not put our students to sleep?

Make a new presentation each time

It may seem tedious, but I’ve found that making a new PowerPoint presentation for each class keeps me from going on autopilot while I’m presenting. I switch up the order of topics, the example search terms I use, and the GIFs I include (did you know you can put GIFs in a PowerPoint?! It’s a game changer!). These little changes help to keep me in the moment during each presentation.

Break up your time wisely

One-shots are never as long as we’d like them to be, so it’s important to use our time wisely. Whether I have 30 minutes or 55 minutes, I never plan on lecturing for that entire time. Personally, I try not to lecture for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. The students like to talk with their peers and play games, so I like to do partner activities and review games. In pairs or groups of three, I sometimes have the students help each other come up with search terms for their individual research questions. Another small group activity could be asking each group to find one or two articles about an assigned topic.

Use apps

Along the same lines of group activities and review games, education apps are a great way to keep students engaged. I always try to leave room at the end of my one-shots for a short Kahoot! review game that goes over topics I discussed. The students get competitive with each other, and they always come up with funny usernames!

Another app I use often is Mentimeter, where students can vote in polls, post questions during my lectures that I can address later, or submit permalinks to articles they found during group activities. There are tons of different tools on Mentimeter, so explore it and get inspired to create new one-shot activities!

Constantly learn and experiment

If you come up with a new activity for one-shots, share that idea with your colleagues! Ask them what they’ve tried during one-shots. What worked? What definitely didn’t? Talking to your peers is a great way to discover best practices.

Don’t be afraid to experiment either. I keep a spreadsheet listing each class I visit, the activities we did, what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. Then, I can look back at my notes for ideas when I’m feeling stuck, or to remember why an idea I had failed.

Have fun!

If you’re not engaged and having fun, you cannot expect your students to be engaged and have fun. Like I said, I like to throw GIFs into my PowerPoints, and I’m sure there are tons of other ways to add personality to your presentations. My main goal for a one-shot is not for each student to remember every single thing I said. Instead, it’s to show each student that I’m a resource on campus (or online) that they should feel comfortable approaching for help. The best way to do that, I’ve found, is to have fun together during the one-shot.

Reflective Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

by Mandi Goodsett, Performing Arts and Humanities Librarian at Cleveland State University

 

Many instruction librarians have seen their teaching activities significantly change in the past few months, and keeping up with shifting sands of our communities’ priorities and needs can be challenging. But we’re also seeing more than ever how important it is to demonstrate our value and maintain a high level of quality in our services, as difficult as it may be in this changing landscape.

While the formats and delivery of library instruction may be changing significantly as institutions deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, one simple and inexpensive action that we can still take is to engage in reflective teaching. When teachers reflect, they recall their past instruction experience, ask questions about its effectiveness, and make plans for future instruction based on the answers they give. Taking the time to reflect about instruction when we’re all so busy and, in many cases, dealing with less-than-ideal working situations might not seem worthwhile. However, reflective teaching doesn’t require a lot of resources or time to be effective, and even a short reflection about your teaching can improve the quality of your instruction. And the current situation, in which many of us are recording our instruction by default, provides a new opportunity to engage in reflective teaching.

Video-recording your teaching — something you may already be doing to serve a growing number of online courses — allows you to compare your own impressions of your instruction with how it may be perceived by your students, which is a great opportunity for reflection. If you have the time, choose one or two recorded library instruction sessions to review. See if you can take on the perspective of a student as you view the recording and take some notes. Is everything clear? Are there any major gaps in the instruction that might confuse the listener? Is the instruction engaging and informative? Does the delivery of the content provide opportunities for students to ask questions and test their learning? Did you meet your learning outcomes? How do you know?

In your notes, make sure to provide enough detail to make your reflection findable the next time you teach this class or a similar one. If you record your reflections in a digital document that’s searchable, you may even want to provide some tags, such as the course name, instructor name, course topic/content, etc. 

This exercise does involve taking the time to re-watch your entire instruction session, but it can be extremely valuable. When this or a similar class rolls around in a future semester, you can take a moment during your preparation to review your reflection notes and make changes. I have found that this measurably improves my teaching.

While you may find reviewing a recording of your teaching to be helpful, reflection can be even more effective with the help of a peer observer. Since you already have recordings of your teaching at your fingertips, now may be a good opportunity to experiment with peer feedback. Work with librarian colleagues at your own institution (or elsewhere!) to exchange recordings of instruction with the goal of sharing constructive feedback. Doing this kind of activity can be scary! No one really likes to hear criticism about their teaching, and, especially for those who have taught for years, the thought of changing a tried-and-true teaching strategy can be daunting. However, with some ground rules, a willingness to change, and a foundation of trust, peer feedback can be a very valuable form of reflective teaching.

Start with a meeting between the instructor and the peer observer. The instructor should explain what they’re hoping to receive feedback about, and what their goals for the session are. After the peer observer watches the recording, the two should meet again. The peer observer can then ask questions about the instructor’s decisions and share their perceptions of the instructor’s success in meeting their goals for the session. This should be done in a supportive, tactful way — it should include some positive details about how the class went. Then, both instructor and peer observer can engage in some reflective writing about how they might change their instructional approaches going forward. 

As you rethink your library instruction in the coming months, regularly assessing your own teaching can help you improve your approach, especially given the fact that you may now have easy access to recordings of your teaching. Reflecting on your own teaching can be intimidating, but when you approach the task with openness and a willingness to change, it can facilitate a resilient approach to your library instruction in a time of change. Even as the sands continue to shift beneath our feet, reflective teaching helps us find our footing as we continue to show our value as teacher-librarians.


For more details about reflective teaching, see Mandi’s article, “Reflective Teaching: Improving Library Instruction Through Self-Reflection“, published in The Southeastern Librarian in 2014.

Advice for Teaching at a Distance

Considering current events, our guest bloggers for the month of April agreed that offering advice on designing instruction at a distance might be helpful. In this post, Stacey McKenna, Reference and Instruction Librarian at The Ohio State Newark campus, and Jane Hammons, the Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian with University Libraries Teaching and Learning Department, provide their advice to librarians providing virtual one-shots and other forms of instruction, as well as fun tips for being quarantined. Please ask any questions, or leave any comments below!

– – –

Stacey McKenna:

Creating instructional videos to assist professors and students has gone from being a cool extra service we offer, to being completely necessary. However, creating these videos can be tricky, especially if you’ve never tried your hand at it before. The following are some of my tried and true tips for creating a successful video or screencast.

1.) Make sure you are on the same page as the professor about the research requirements

To help me better understand tricky assignment prompts I will ask the professor to send me the list of students’ topics to make sure I’m on the right track.

2.) Make your videos short and concise

There’s nothing worse than having to slog through an hour long recorded lecture from a professor, and since we can’t do our normal in class activities, there’s not as much to break up our talking time. Create videos that are around ten minutes or less to keep students’ attention, and so they can easily go back and review a research concept that is tricky for them. Make sure your titles clearly label what concept you are discussing in that video.

3.) Ask if you can create a supplemental quiz or assignment to go along with your video

There should always be some sort of assignment attached to any instruction you ever do, be it virtual or in-person. If the professor is worried that students will skip over your instructional videos, request adding a short supplemental assignment.

4.) Demonstrate the reference chat feature

Always, always, always demonstrate the chat feature if your library has one. This is a tool that many students have never used before and can be a grade saver. Before doing this, make sure a colleague is currently on chat and can respond right away so that your video flows seamlessly.

5.) Practice your searches ahead of time

I have heard both sides of the argument on pre-planned searches, and both sides have merit. However, I find it best when recording, to have my search terms and showcased articles planned out in advance since there isn’t the interaction there is in an in-person class.

6.) Use your resources

What’s my favorite part of being a librarian? The fact that each of us has a wealth of knowledge on specific topics that we can’t wait to share! If you’re having trouble recording, reach out to one of your more techy colleagues! Having trouble choosing the right search terms or database for a specific query? Hit up your incredibly knowledgeable and friendly subject librarians!

Recording instructional videos is a lot like doing research. It takes several tries and several failed attempts before it really starts to take shape.

 

Fun tip for being quarantined:

Movie Bracket: Draw out a basketball bracket on a piece of paper with as many head to head matches as you wish. Choose movies to go head to head that you can watch and argue about which is superior. Make sure you don’t include more movies than you think you can watch during the quarantine! You can do this with anything. If you like having enthusiastic debates, do this with anything! Most instrumental character in Star Wars (baby Yoda, obvi), tv show that had the worst finale, most delicious beer, most annoying family member. Be creative!

 

Jane Hammons:

Some other ways you can support course instructors, other librarians, and students during this crazy period:

1.) Keep accessibility in mind

If you create videos, make sure that your videos have captions or transcripts, or both. If you provide a PPT or slides, be sure that the contrast is good and the font size is readable. Some resources that can help include:

2.) Provide alternatives, if possible

This is more important than ever, since most students have lost the ability to use campus computers. They now may be using an older computer or sharing a single computer with family members. They may not have broadband access or may be watching everything on their phones. Think about alternative ways that they can get the same information or complete the assignment. For example, you could create a narrated PPT as a video, and make the PPT (with notes) available to students who are unable to watch the video. Or, you could provide an annotated bibliography or a Word document with screenshots to go along with a video. Some resources that could help include:

3.) If you have time, offer to serve as a practice audience for instructors or other librarians as they try out new technologies

Some instructors or librarians may be feeling nervous about using Zoom or some other technology, especially for a live session. It can be helpful to have a chance to practice first without the pressure of a student audience.

 

Fun tip for being quarantined:

Go back to your childhood or teen years. Spend some time watching those movies or tv shows that you haven’t watched in years (or decades, perhaps?). Have a themed movie day—best movies starring the first actor or actress you had a crush on. Or, listen to music by that band that you absolutely loved when you were 13. Play older video games (I have made it my goal for this period to once again be able to make it all the way through the original Super Mario Bros. If I could do it when I was a kid, I can do it now, right?) Pull out the old board games. Have fun!

 

Surviving Instruction: A New Librarians’ Experience

By Stephanie Porrata, Mary P. Key Diversity Resident Librarian for Area Studies

Library instruction can be intimidating, especially for an early-career librarian with no prior knowledge or experience. This blog post will highlight my approach to library instruction as an early-career librarian through the process of preparing for my first instruction session. My goal is to provide a starting point for other librarians unfamiliar with instruction along with some insight as to how more experienced colleagues can support librarians like myself.

Pre-Instruction Preparation

One of the most helpful ways to cope with the intimidation of my first ever instruction session was to reduce it to its fundamental transferable skills—public speaking, knowledge of the library catalog, knowledge of the information cycle—and connect them to what I have already done. Upon reflection, I realized that my experience as a Residence Hall Library Supervisor coupled with my MLS class work and presentations were my connection points to library instruction. As a supervisor, it was my duty to familiarize my staff with the catalog so that they could connect students with the resources they sought. While these training sessions with my student workers were short and focused on a specific section of the libraries’ catalog, I was in fact doing some preliminary instruction. My MLS coursework involved many presentations and provided an opportunity to improve my public speaking, allowing me to feel —somewhat—confident in front of a crowd. Whenever my anxiety would spike about my upcoming instruction session, I would return to the idea that my upcoming instruction session is not a completely new experience.

With my anxiety under control, I moved into an information gathering phase involving asking for help getting started, shadowing colleagues, and doing my reading. Up until I started my position as an MPK Diversity Resident Librarian, I had very little familiarity with the literature on instruction and any guidelines for best practices. I reached out to our Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian, explained my upcoming instruction session and lack of experience with instruction, and then she provided a suggested reading list based off our conversation. With this reading list in hand, I felt more comfortable going into my instruction session with some kind of best practice road map. At the same time, I made sure to shadow my colleagues’ instruction sessions whenever I could. By watching I could see first-hand what is effective and what is connecting with students. It is also helpful to see the kinds of questions, comments, and activities my colleagues used to engage with students and their learning. Taking notes of these sessions provided me with a toolkit of ideas to draw on when it was time to do my own instruction session. At this point in the preparation process, I was feeling pretty confident. I created my PowerPoint and had several practice runs with my supervisor, asking for any comments or suggestions. I was ready to present!

 

Post-Instruction Reflections

I survived my first instruction session which was in collaboration with two other librarians and learned a valuable lesson in flexibility and self-compassion. As with anything in life, you can prepare extensively and something will still stray from the plan. In this situation the straying factor was my allotted time. Because I was last to go, my allotted 25 minutes became 14 minutes. My 25 minutes of content had to become 14 minutes of content on the spot. I did the best I could, but there was no denying that I was a little distressed. I did not get to cover everything I wanted to cover and I felt like I did not do my job well. Upon reflection, I realized that flexibility and improvisation are vital skills if you are going to be doing instruction sessions. The ability to adjust according to your environment—timing changes, audience feedback, etc.— is dynamic and engaging and something that can only improve with practice. While I may not have handled the situation with as much grace as I would have liked, I was able to practice some self-compassion. Things did not go according to plan, and that was okay. I walked away with some experience under my belt and an understanding that sometimes things do not go according to plan. Doing instruction is an iterative process that calls for constant research and preparation, flexibility and reflection.

 

Here are some takeaways based on my experience:

For librarians new to insruction, break down instruction into its transferable skills, gather information through reading, shadowing, and reflecting on other colleagues' approaches, be flexible and self compassionate, and seek out opportunities to keep practicing. For supportive colleagues, share any resources that you think are helpful, invite less experienced colleagues to shadow your instruction sessions, provide opportunities for your colleagues through co-teaching/ connecting them with potential collaborators, and give feedback.

 

Teaching from the Microcosm: A Practical Idea from The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer

By Beth Black, Undergraduate Engagement Librarian

I recently read the classic book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer, thanks to its inclusion on the reading list for our campus Teaching Support Program. I am grateful for this push because I found the book inspiring both philosophically and practically. In this post I will share a powerful, practical teaching idea: Teaching from the Microcosm (Palmer, 2007, p. 123-135).

In reaction to the perceived need to “cover the field,” Palmer encourages teachers instead to invite students into the big ideas and practices of a discipline by teaching small but critical samples of the data of the field. Through in-depth exploration students learn how a practitioner of that field generates data, checks and corrects the data, thinks about data, uses and applies data, and shares data with others. The entire lifecycle of information creation and dissemination can be taught through in-depth consideration of a single yet critical sample.

In The Courage to Teach, Palmer provides detailed examples of teaching from the microcosm in two contexts: medical school and a social science research course. In the medical school example, the instructors created learning groups that engaged with actual patients from the beginning and through the in-depth exploration of those cases, applied what they were learning in other courses. In the social science research course example students considered a single data table for a two-week period. During that time, Palmer used questions, some that appeared obvious and stupid, to help students look more deeply at the data table, how it came to be, the assumptions behind it, the processes through which the data was collected, etc. all the way through the social science research process.

In information literacy instruction, we often have a single class visit of 45-90 minutes and we often feel the pressure to “teach research” in this short period knowing it is impossible. Taking the microcosm approach, we might instead select a single search or a single information source and through questions, student exploration and discussion walk with students through a selected frame of the Information Literacy Framework. One example would be taking a single source and exploring how it came to be created through questions about audience, author, and purpose. Then as time allows moving into how this item finds its reader, through questions of dissemination and search.

In what ways have you taught from the microcosm?

 

Reference:

Palmer, Parker J. 2007. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Relieving Library Anxiety with Anonymous Engagement

Written by Zach Walton, Reference and Instruction Librarian at The Ohio State University at Lima

 

Something that is constantly on my mind as I design my library one-shots is the role that library anxiety plays in students’ ability to learn and retain the knowledge they’re being presented with. The fact that some students feel anxious about entering a library at all, interacting with library resources, or even asking a librarian a question for fear of judgement or humiliation is deeply troubling. Sometimes, if I’m working with a particularly quiet class, I worry that some students may not be asking questions or participating as a result of library anxiety. Over the course of the past fall semester, I pursued more anonymous in-class activities in order to give a voice to the apprehensive student.

While I’ve explored multiple modes of communication to better engage students anonymously, both low-tech and beyond, the two tools I use the most frequently are Kahoot! and Mentimeter. I was introduced to these teaching tools by several colleagues (most notably Hanna Primeau, who wrote an earlier post on this blog). Kahoot! is a teaching tool that allows you to create games which students can engage in using their phones or another device, and Mentimeter is a teaching tool that allows you to create interactive slides which students can similarly engage with. Both of these tools allow for anonymous engagement in the classroom. For example, beyond functioning as a fantastic ice-breaking activity, Kahoot! gives students the option to play under any name they’d like. I even encourage students to use emojis in place of their name when playing Kahoot!, so that students don’t have to worry about judgement from their peers if they answer a question incorrectly.

While I find Kahoot! immensely useful, I typically use Mentimeter more when visiting classes. I try to frame any class I visit with two slides I’ve developed. The first question is typically fairly low stakes, something along the lines of “have you ever visited the library on campus.” I use this as an introduction to the tool, so that students can see the answers they typed into their phone or another device appearing on the screen anonymously. I then introduce them to my second slide, a Q&A slide where I encourage students to ask me anything. I then explain that, while I enjoy conversation in my one-shots and that I encourage students to interject or ask questions as they come to them, I recognize that some students may feel more comfortable asking questions anonymously and let them know that I’ll be visiting this slide frequently in the class. Because I deliberately word this slide to encourage students to ask me any question they might have, I receive content focused questions as well as not so content focused questions (i.e. what’s your favorite book). I welcome these questions as a chance to show that librarians are people too, that we have our own unique interests, just like the students we work with. By humanizing our profession, and by encouraging communication and engagement through anonymity, I saw an increase in students visiting me for help. Students saw my willingness to answer any questions, content focused or not, and I believe that helped to mitigate anxieties they may have felt about the library.

I’m sure that many of you have different ways of engaging your students, and I’d love to hear about how you’ve provided multiple modes of communication while teaching in the comments section, or give this Menti page a try and see the results below!