As the new school year begins (it started on Monday at the University of Utah), I think about my own education and the drudgery that I experienced as a student. Every class was set up the same, no matter the topic: a full slate of readings, in class lectures followed by stilted discussions, the same old timeline of quizzes, mid-terms, and final research papers. After cramming for the final and staying up all night writing the final paper, I mostly forgot everything I had memorized within two weeks.
The classes that I still remember as truly transformational were the ones that strayed from these norms. They may not have strayed too far, but just enough to jog my brain out of the ruts it had fallen into. In these classes, I had professors who asked us to draw material from our own lives and apply it to the material; we watched football games and horror movies, and made connections between current events and our coursework. In these classes, we were encouraged to say whatever we were thinking during class, regardless of the perspicacity of the comment.
Now…library instruction can’t be all that can it? Perhaps not.
But it can be more lively, engaging, and truly educational than the same-old same-old.
Most librarians only have brief opportunities to reach students; perhaps five instruction sessions or maybe even just one. Which is truly not enough, but we have to work with what we get, cooperate with professors, and show our willingness to help out so that maybe next semester we get longer periods of time to work with students.
As I sat down to write this blog post, I reflected both on my experiences as a student and as an instructor. What follows are a few things that I have learned from teaching instruction sessions, providing reference at the main undergraduate reference desk, and from being a student, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate.
- Most students that I have encountered have never been in a library, or if they have been in one, they have never really used it. This means they have no idea how the catalog works, what call numbers and subject headings are, or how to locate an item on the shelf. For the instructor, this means: SLOW DOWN. The students truly have no idea what you’re talking about!
- Slowing down often means scaling back; you won’t be able to cover as much material as you intended. But you can make the material you cover more meaningful and helpful to the students.
- The best advice I ever received when wrestling with learning a difficult subject matter: PLAY! Set up games where students can play and learn at the same time. This might be Reference Sources Jeopardy, library terminology Wheel of Fortune, setting up a library geocaching hunt to locate resources, anything! But inserting a little friendly competition always gets juices going, especially if there are some sweet treats involved!
- Heed a phrase I heard often when I worked in social services: Meet the client where they’re at. That is, where is the student starting from? Do you know? Can you find out? Know your audience! What kind of technology do they use on a daily basis? Can you create a class Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or Instagram account that they can use for discussions, status updates on research projects, library treasure hunt finds, sharing links, etc.? From social media, can you move them beyond to other useful technologies like digital storytelling or developing their own altmetrics sites?
- Another branch off of that idea: do your students need to go in the library to find you? What if you went to them, not just for instruction, but for weekly research help in their department? What if you could use that time to help them research, ask them what they need (a book for class? a book for pleasure? there’s so much you can help with!) and just generally be available! And why not have a small book display and candy while you’re at it…I’m not above a little bribery to engage with students!
- Alternate activities! I don’t want to sit and listen to anyone, much less myself, drag on for an hour straight. Alternate games with quizzes with research and database exploration and you will find that your students are better able to pay attention and remember your takeaways.
- Speaking of, what are your takeaways for students? What is the most useful thing you can teach them? In my opinion, it’s letting the student know where they can get help. Test them on the location of the general reference desk, their subject liaison, what the library can help them with and where (tech help, the reserve desk, writing center, security, etc.).
- Help the students engage with each other about ideas. Give them room and time to think through their research topics with each other, brainstorm key words and concepts, unravel the nitty-gritty of developing an idea and deciding whether it will be a good one for a final paper. That is, help them help each other develop the research skills they will need throughout their lives.
Need ideas? We all need a jumpstart once in a while! Here are some sites I visit for mumblings and musings about innovation and instruction.
And especially the 7 Things You Should Know About series
A great presentation by Meredith Farkas
Some great mobile learning apps
I follow blogs to get new ideas!
By: Jessica Breiman, University of Utah Marriott Library