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A teaching librarian fails at summer vacation

It’s August and I’ve been reflecting on whether I’m making the most of the quiet summer months in our academic library. I’ll confess that I approach summer “break” with an aspirational attitude similar to the one that sparks New Year’s resolutions. And yet, come August, I annually feel panic about whether or not I’ve made the most of my summer. As the academic year ends, I begin to create my mental list of summer projects, things like catching up on reading, cleaning off my desk, planning for the coming year, and working on becoming a better teaching librarian, all before the new semester starts. In past summers, I’ve really emphasized that last one — become a better teaching librarian — leading to unnecessary pressure, and unexpected results.

In May 2017, for example, I attended LOEX for the first time. I returned to my library buzzing with new ideas to improve my practice. When summer rolled around, I decided to turn those ideas into a single project: developing a lesson plan around strategic searching, which I am frequently called on to teach. This lesson would be different from those lessons that I rush to put together during the semester. With this lesson, I would be more deliberate in my teaching. A pre-made lesson would also streamline my practice for a busy fall. Finally, with the extra time, I could focus on the areas where I had seen students struggle in the past year.

I optimistically estimated that the resulting lesson, a script for me and a two-page worksheet for the students, could be taught in 75 minutes. Ha! I never found out as I was too daunted to try it. Initially, I told myself that the lesson wasn’t a good fit for the particular classes I was teaching. Revisiting the lesson to write this post, I see now that it was much too complex and not at all appropriate for a one-shot. More likely these exercises would have taken at least two class sessions to do well. Having put in hours of work with little to show for it, my big summer project felt like a colossal failure.

There is a happy ending, though, as I’ve learned several valuable lessons from last summer’s experiences. First, summer is not the best time (for me, at least) to develop my teaching because I’m not actually working with students. My lesson plan was not coming from an authentic place; it was developed for imaginary, idealized students. However, revisiting the lesson, I now realize that I have incorporated some elements of it into the lessons that I developed during the academic year. The thinking was useful, even if I couldn’t use the original product. Finally, I’ve changed how I think about summer. This year, I have spent my time catching up on reading and doing some much-needed writing. I’ll save the actual lesson plans for the semester, when the ideas of the students are much closer.

New scholarship on Guide on the Side

Guide on the Side is a tutorial-building tool developed by the libraries at the University of Arizona.  What sets Guide on the Side (GOTS) apart, is that it puts the instructional material in a frame around the database (or other website) that you are teaching, so that students have their instruction side-by-side with what they are doing.  In “Student See Versus Student Do: A Comparative Study of Two Online Tutorials,” Ilana Stonebraker, M. Brooke Robertshaw and Jennifer D. Moss (Tech Trends pre-print Feb 2016) compare the effectiveness of GOTS with that of a traditional tutorial.  DOI: 10.1007/s11528-016-0026-7

Instruction Librarians Talk about Teaching and Learning: Hunter College Libraries’ 2015 Library Instruction Day

Instruction day icebreaker
Icebreaker: Would you rather be able to fly, or be invisible?

At Hunter College Libraries, we often complain that there is rarely time available for us (those who teach) to talk about our teaching and share ideas, both best practices and biggest challenges. This spring, Sarah Ward and I began considering a time and space for such a conversation. In an attempt to be as inclusive and democratic as possible, we (the organizers) invited interested library faculty and staff to complete a Doodle poll to choose the best date and then, following an “unconference” model, to nominate topics via a Padlet “wall.” Expenses for the event were minimal: adjunct coverage at the reference desks.  We invited folks to bring brown bag lunches, and we organizers contributed some cookies.

Library Instruction Day became a reality on Tuesday, June 23 from 10-1, with approximately 14 of us attending, representing all four of Hunter’s libraries; members of the technical services team, as well as reference and instruction. We began the day with an icebreaker: Which super-power would you rather have, flight or invisibility, and why? Participants, fairly evenly divided, shared their answers on a white board.

Hunter's library instruction day
Take-aways from Hunter College’s Library Instruction Day

We then spent about an hour gaining context in an interactive workshop lead by Meredith Reitman, Hunter’s Director of Assessment, titled “What are your students really learning?” The remaining two hours were spent in informal discussion of ideas from the participant-generated list (seeded with a few additional items by the organizers).  Attempting to practice what we preach, we closed by asking each participant to generate a three-item “to do” list, based on ideas generated by the event. Each person then shared his/her top item on the white board.

Our discussion was great and the feedback was generally positive, with interest in making the event annual. What do you do in your library to meet this need?