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.